COLUMBIA — Fans arriving at University Field to watch the No. 18 Missouri softball team on Friday might have caught a glimpse of some teammates playing not softball, but hacky sack before first pitch.
Five Missouri softball players stood in a circle before the game against Ball State, kicking and bumping the hacky sack as they waited for the game between North Dakota State and University of Missouri-Kansas City to finish.
Mackenzie Sykes, though, wasn't among them. The senior outfielder was busy checking scouting reports to get to know her opponents. Sykes' research would pay off in a big way.
"She [Sykes] just always seemed to have a good head on her shoulders," sophomore outfielder Taylor Gadbois said.
Sykes used her good head and shoulders to go 3 for 4 with two doubles and five RBIs in the Tigers' 11-3 win over Ball State. The game ended in six innings due to the run rule.
But Sykes doesn't let the success go to her head.
"You couldn't tell if she had a four-hit game or 0-four," Gadbois said.
Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine appreciates the constant effort from the senior — the only player who's been there four years.
"I think it's the unspoken word that Mackenzie's a leader by example," Earleywine said. "She's not a real vocal kid."
Despite winning in six innings by eight runs, Earleywine wasn't completely satisfied. He still wants his team to get better hits.
The exception though, was Sykes.
"We've been needing production from the five through eight hole," he said. "She came up tonight and busted the double with the bases loaded. That was the highlight of the night for me."
Most of what he appreciates about Sykes, though, is that she's listening and taking on the responsibility of a leader.
"Just the idea that she was thinking about what she's being coached on makes it worth your while to coach these kids," he said. "So many times, 80 percent of what we tell them, they continue to do."
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Sykes swung at her second strike. She stepped back from the batter's box, adjusted her feet, put her hand to her helmet and as if unfazed, smacked a single through the left side on the next pitch.
She may not play hacky sack with her teammates, but it's clear that Mackenzie Sykes knows what she's doing on the field.