COLUMBIA — He wished no one had noticed.
After the final out of No. 16 Missouri’s 4-2 victory over Western Illinois in Game 1 of their Wednesday doubleheader, coach Ehren Earleywine retreated from his spot on the railing into the dugout.
"I'd like to congratulate Coach Ehren Earleywine on his 500th career victory," the announcer’s baritone voice boomed over the loud speaker.
The crowd applauded. Earleywine remained hidden in the dugout, shaking hands with his players as they walked by.
No tip of the cap, no acknowledgement. Nothing.
What concerned the Tigers' eighth-year coach more was his team's offensive approach. Western Illinois starting pitcher Hailey Bickford entered the game with a 5.15 ERA, but managed to limit a depleted Missouri lineup to six hits.
Missouri (29-10, 6-6) entered the bottom of the fifth tied 2-2 thanks to an interference call on third baseman Corrin Genovese that allowed Western Illinois' Nina Maggio to score from third. The Tigers took the lead for good in the bottom of the frame on senior outfielder Mackenzie Sykes' RBI-single. Sykes’ two-out slap to center field scored shortstop Sami Fagan and pushed Missouri ahead, 3-2.
Freshman pitcher Tori Finucane retired six of the next seven Leatherneck batters to take Game 1, 4-2.
"I thought our hitting approach and our at-bat management was really unfocused, especially in the first game," Earleywine said. "We got in plus counts and swung at bad pitches and we got in pitcher's counts and took strikes. It was totally backwards from what it's supposed to be."
Missouri jumped on Western Illinois early in the second game, tallying a run in three of the first four innings.
Freshman Kelli Schkade provided most of the punch for the Tigers' offense in the second contest. Her two-out, RBI-triple in the fourth put Missouri ahead 3-0. Schkade finished the game 3-for-4 with two RBIs.
"I think she (Schkade) and Natalie Fleming have a chance – even when (Emily) Crane and (Taylor) Gadbois get back in the lineup to be every-day hitters. I don’t know what position right now, but that bottom part of the order hasn't been very productive, so they could slide in there if they keep going like they’re going."
Starting pitcher Casey Stangel wouldn't require much run support. The freshman lefty dominated the Western Illinois lineup, surrendering three hits and no runs. Stangel (13-5) notched her 11th complete game of the year in the eventual 5-0 win.
"I think today I was good at keeping my drop ball down and throwing lots of rise balls and mixing in change ups," Stangel said. "That was what got it done today."
After the games, Earleywine was in no mood to reflect upon a personal accomplishment. Asked about the significance of his 500th career victory as a head coach – 354 of which have came at Missouri – Earleywine said "absolutely nothing."
Earleywine was far more interested in the future.
"Our at-bat management — if it doesn't change — we're going to get dusted," Earleywine said.
Missouri resumes conference play Friday in a three-game slate against No. 20 Auburn.
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