Missouri softball team prepares for its first SEC tournament

Wednesday, May 8, 2013 | 8:43 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine doesn't like conference tournaments, and he won't hide it. He was happy in 2010 when the Big 12 (his team's conference at the time) decided to stop holding an annual tournament and now he hopes his current conference will do the same in the near future.

"It just seemed so anticlimactic," Earleywine said in the SEC teleconference Monday. "You battle these same teams for 25 games, and it’s such a grind and 'Oh by the way, let’s go back and play everybody one more time just in case you didn’t get enough.'"

Now that he and the Tigers are in the Southeastern Conference, they will have to get used to playing in a conference tournament again, at least for this year. Missouri's postseason begins Wednesday in Lexington, Ky. 

After playing three games in about 20 hours against Tennessee last weekend, the biggest thing Earleywine can do to get his team ready for the tournament is give them rest.

"We’re not going to do a lot of practicing," Earleywine said. "If you haven’t got it by now, you’re not going to get it at all.” 

Six of the 10 teams in the tournament, including Missouri, receive a bye, so the Tigers' first game in an SEC tournament will be in the quarterfinals Thursday. Missouri will take on Arkansas, a team that won twice in Columbia this season.

Arkansas coach Mike Larabee said his team will be especially ready for the matchup against the SEC rookie.

“Our players are expecting to win, which is the first time since I’ve been here where they’ve taken that type of attitude going into a game," Larabee said in the teleconference.

Arkansas will have to face a fresh Chelsea Thomas, who is coming off a no-hitter Saturday against the No. 2 team in the country, Tennessee. Winning the SEC Tournament was never a goal for Earleywine, and so he does not plan to overuse his ace in the tournament.

“I’m not going to throw Chelsea Thomas until she drops,” Earleywine said. “She will throw that first game, but after that, it’s probably going to be a very conservative approach as to who we pitch."

The tournament will be single-elimination, so each game is a must-win in order to make it to the championship game.

While the Tigers rested this week, there was plenty of film Earleywine showed his players. No. 3-seeded Missouri is 13-8 against SEC tournament teams this season. Six of the top 10 teams in Monday's RPI ranking, including Missouri, will be competing in the SEC tournament.

"We knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into," Earlerywine said. "And we were, and still are, very glad for the opportunity to be in such a great softball conference.” 

Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.

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