COLUMBIA — It would be easy to get caught up in the hype of Missouri softball's freshmen.
It would be easy to get caught up in the highly anticipated pitchers Tori Finucane and Casey Stangel, each joining the team with a heap of accolades to replace last season's ace, Chelsea Thomas.
It would be easy to get caught up in the power of catcher Kirsten Mack's swing, especially after her three home runs in the Tigers' annual Black & Gold exhibition game on Saturday at the Devine Practice Facility.
But the freshmen aren't the team's only newcomers. Senior pitcher Alora Marble joined the Tigers this year after transferring from Southeast Missouri and taking a year off in the 2013 season.
In the indoor facility where the Tigers play when the weather is cold — where a makeshift field is made on a football grid and fly balls frequently hit the ceiling — the announcers introduced the Black team first. "No. 14, Alora Marble," they said.
But when she entered the game, Marble played in right field for the Gold team, which was short someone to play this position.
"It makes me just appreciate outfielders so much more," Marble said. "I can't play outfield, and they do amazing at it. And let's face it, if it weren't for the defense, the pitcher would be nothing."
That's not all Marble appreciates. After transferring from SEMO and redshirting last year, being able to play at all — let alone closer to her family in Jefferson City — takes on a new meaning for her.
"You don't realize how much you appreciate something until it's gone," she said.
For most of the game, which the Black team won 8-7, Marble played a position she wasn't supposed to play for a team she wasn't supposed to be on. She sat back as Finucane and Stangel — those freshmen that everyone's talking about — took the lead.
But Marble knows her role. As she did at this game, she knows she needs to support the freshmen, both on and off the field. If they come to her with questions, she makes sure she's there for them.
In the top of the eighth inning in the 10-inning intrasquad game, though, Finucane sat on the bench with her coat on. Marble took her place on the mound.
Marble, as well as freshman Jordan Zolman, will get their pitching time at the beginning of the season. The Tigers will play three weekends with five games apiece, and no pitcher is in shape enough to pitch 35 innings yet, coach Ehren Earleywine said. At the end of those weeks, they'll evaluate each player's role.
"Things can change," Earleywine said. "Whatever I predict at the beginning of the season is never true at the end of the season, fully."
As the game came to a close, redshirt sophomore catcher Carlie Rose hit one of Marble's pitches straight down the middle, hitting Marble in the leg.
Marble hunched over, her team huddling around her for a minute. But she got back up and finished the game.
Things may not be perfect. Of her three innings pitched, she had zero strikeouts and gave up six earned runs.
But Marble knows her role for now. And she appreciates it.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.