COLUMBIA — Fans lined up outside the gates of University Field a good hour before No. 13 Missouri was set to take on No. 6 Alabama in the first game of the series. Staff wiped down seats with white towels as ESPN set up its cameras for the big game.
It was the last Southeastern Conference series of the regular season, and a Missouri sweep would give the Tigers a share of the regular season conference title.
A shuttle drove the many fans between the parking lot and the stadium — back and forth, back and forth, throughout the game.
Missouri's 8-6 win had plenty of those back and forth swings, too.
Like the fans lining up at the gates, it started early.
The first hit of the game, from Alabama center fielder Haylie McCleney, slipped just beyond senior left fielder Mackenzie Sykes' glove and over the wall. After that rough start, the Tigers gave up another run in the top of the second off a sacrifice fly from shortstop Danae Hays.
In the bottom half, first baseman Kelsea Roth swung and missed, tossed her bat in the air and snagged it in frustration. Her strikeout ended the second inning for the Tigers, down 2-0 now.
"It's not ideal," Missouri sophomore Ashtin Stephens said. "But I think we know we have to score to win, and we know that we're capable of scoring more than one run."
Sophomore right fielder Emily Crane thrust both arms in the air as she rounded first base. She abandoned the typical home run trot and sprinted to home plate as the Tigers picked up a 3-2 lead with her two-run home run in the bottom of the third inning.
The hit capped off a three-run swing that put Missouri ahead.
"Everyone was like, 'Emily, slow down,' and I was like, 'No, I am not slowing down!'" Crane said. "I just had so much emotion running through me; I just kept going."
Missouri fed off this momentum and added two more runs with the help of a triple by junior shortstop Corrin Genovese and another homer, this time from Roth, in the fourth inning.
Boos erupted from the packed crowd as the umpire called the fourth ball thrown by Missouri's freshman pitcher Tori Finucane and gave McCleney the walk to load the bases.
Fans groaned more when Alabama left fielder Kallie Case blasted the ball in the next at-bat to send them all home.
But Missouri wasn't done.
"I knew that they were gonna keep fighting," Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. "They respect Alabama, but there's absolutely not a shred of fear."
He was right.
Freshman Natalie Fleming stepped up to bat in the bottom of the sixth. She'd gone 0-for-2 in the game so far, and she wasn't happy about it. She'd talked in the dugout about how she should've hit those pitches.
A double to right field, which brought runners in from second and first, made up for it.
"(Volunteer) coach (Phil) Bradley described her as having electricity in her bat," sophomore catcher Sami Fagan said. "Like as soon as the ball hits the bat, it just explodes off."
As the Tigers celebrated their win, the shuttle drove by again along the outfield wall. It, like the team, would be back again Friday and Saturday, carrying fans to another sold-out game.
Missouri's hopes of a series sweep and a share at the conference title remain.
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.