COLUMBIA – Two days away from NCAA Super Regional play against Washington and Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine said many of his players looked like they were sleepwalking in practice.
The team is two days away from the series that will determine if they play in the Women’s College World Series or if their season ends, and the underclassmen weren’t showing the effort one would expect after last season's Super Regional.
No. 11 Washington vs. No. 6 Missouri
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday; 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. (if necessary) Friday
WHERE: University Field
TV: Game 1 and 3 on ESPN; Game 2 on ESPNU
“They had a glazed look in their eye, and they’re going at about 80 percent,” said Earleywine, who perhaps has reason to be concerned.
Last season, 10 young, but confident, freshmen watched LSU celebrate on their field. What Earleywine later described as an attitude that said “I play for Mizzou, so for sure we’re going to the World Series” disappeared and a long offseason followed.
“It was heartbreaking, it was sickening, it was depressing, it was anything that you can imagine, all of those emotions wrapped into one,” Earleywine said.
The loss stuck with the team, but with the move to the Southeastern Conference, Missouri was able to partially redeem itself with a regular-season series at LSU.
Missouri took two out of three in Baton Rouge, La., but the 2012 Super Regionals were not entirely reconciled just yet. On Thursday, the Tigers have a chance to fully redeem themselves.
“No way we want to go out (again), losing here,” senior Jenna Marston said. “Our goal from the beginning of the season was get to the World Series and win it there, and we don’t want to fall short again.”
An occasional issue over the past two seasons, a lack of enthusiasm has often caused a Missouri loss, but after the lackluster efforts in practice Tuesday, Earleywine still thinks performance in the Tigers' games will be the bigger issue.
“When you practice at 80 (percent) and you play at 100, you may as well not even have practiced because it’s a whole different gear,” Earleywine said. “So it was almost a waste of time for a lot of kids out here today.”
On Wednesday, the team will prepare for the series by watching film of Washington. The teams met in the 2011 Super Regionals, with Missouri advancing after winning the first two games.
Missouri’s question mark for most of the season has been in the circle. Can ace Chelsea Thomas pitch? After feeling minimal symptoms in her arm and hand, Thomas is expected to start Thursday.
Earleywine’s attention can finally shift from pitching to the other eight players, particularly the five to six underclassman in his starting lineup.
“Hopefully they play better on Thursday than they practiced today,” he said.