COLUMBIA – “Slide Emily!”
Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine yelled at Emily Crane after the Western Kentucky catcher tagged out Crane at home plate on a fielder’s choice.
She looked back at her coach and right when he began to yell more at the freshman, Kelsea Roth’s walk-up song blasted through the speakers. But Crane heard what her coach said, and by the look on her face, she knew she was in trouble for not sliding.
The following inning, a ball fell between Crane at second, Mackenzie Sykes in left field and Carlie Rose in right. A couple batters later, an Angela Randazzo throw went sailing past Crane into right field allowing a Western Kentucky player to score for a 1-0 Hilltoppers lead.
After the top half of the inning was over, Earleywine stared at the field as his players jogged into the dugout. When Crane got to the dugout, Earleywine turned to her and talked to her more — saying something that he couldn’t share with the media after the game.
The more he talked, the bigger his hand gestures got. He pointed at her, he pointed at himself. He told her that Princess Krebs was going to pinch hit for her and that Crane was no longer needed in the game. She looked up at him and nodded her head, responding here and there.
“She’s a competitor, and she wants to be out on the field all the time,” Nicole Hudson said of Crane. “So she’s upset.”
When Earleywine was done, Crane walked away. He stood there for a moment, adjusted his hat and then walked to the coach’s box by third base.
But it wasn’t just Crane that was struggling. While there was just one error on the scoreboard for the Tigers, there was a deeper story to be told. Miscommunication of who was going to catch the ball, bad slides into bases, no slides into bases. Missouri’s offense and defense made a lot of mental errors in Game 1 of Wednesday's double-header at University Field.
“It was just yucky softball all around,” Hudson said.
In one of Hudson’s best pitching starts of the season, her team left nine runners on base and never tagged home plate safely. The Tigers lost the first game 1-0.
“It happens,” said Lindsey Muller, who relieved Hudson in the fifth inning. “You try to pitch hard, hoping that we’ll get some runs, but it’s not going to happen every game, so you kind of hope for the best.”
Most of the Tigers had left for the locker room by the time Earleywine got back to the dugout. As soon as he took the step down, he threw his lineup card into the air and just walked into the locker room.
“He was a little upset,” Muller said. “But we have learned not to let it get to us too much, so we look to each other for support.”
Hudson, who considers Crane her little sister on the team, gave the freshman some advice for how to handle being taken out of the first game.
“I just told her that she was going to get a chance, so just to get mentally prepared for that,” Hudson said. “And that’s what she did, came out and had a pretty good game.”
Earleywine said he hoped that it was just enthusiasm that affected the Tigers early play Wednesday.
With Hudson and Muller continuing to pitch well – allowing just one earned run in 14 innings – Missouri’s bats came alive and took advantage of Western Kentucky’s errors and miscues in Game 2.
Missouri batters, including Crane, capitalized on seven walks between the fifth and sixth innings, scoring five runs, but Earleywine said he still didn’t think his team earned the 7-1 win over the Hilltoppers.
“I think Western Kentucky was really the ones to credit with our runs. I think there were a lot of base on balls that got us runs,” Earleywine said. “If you continue to do that and then we accidentally hit a four-hopper up the middle and there’s two runs, so I don’t think it was anything we did.”
After the games, the Tigers gathered in the outfield, as they do after every game, and discussed what went wrong. As the coaches were about to leave for the players-only meeting, the team gathered hands in the middle of the circle.
A very half-hearted, “Tigers” could be heard coming from the circle. The lack of enthusiasm was evident.
“I think we just have to up our concentration this weekend,” Hudson said. “The atmosphere with good weather and being on the road, I think that’s naturally just going to happen.”
Missouri travels to Lexington, Ky., on Thursday for a weekend series at Kentucky set to begin Friday.