COLUMBIA — A sold-out crowd of 2,015 packed the bleachers of University Field on Friday. Some got there early; some had to sit in folding chairs in the golf course just beyond the outfield.
But all the Missouri fans were there to see one thing: the No. 13 Missouri softball team defeat No. 6 Alabama to continue its chances at a share of the regular season Southeastern Conference title.
Instead, they saw a dog pile of Crimson Tide celebrate on the field after a 3-1 victory over the Tigers.
"I think it's bush league," Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. "I understand the excitement, but I think they, like a lot of SEC schools, take it a little bit too far."
Like it or not, a few Tiger mistakes led to that pile.
As fans began filling the bleachers, they could see freshman pitcher Tori Finucane on her own in the outfield a good hour before the game was set to begin. She'd take a few steps and then bend down to stretch, repeating this a few times.
After pitching a full seven innings in the Tigers' 8-6 victory not 24 hours earlier, she was warming up to pitch again.
Earleywine asked her if she'd be ready to pitch again after Thursday's game. They'd have her use her legs more, rather than her whole body, in Game 2.
The decision to have Finucane pitch two consecutive games wasn't the mistake, though. She gave up five hits, fewer than the six in the Tigers' win over the Tide the night before. After her first strikeout, she gave just a hint of a fist pump — more than her usual reaction.
"I thought she threw well enough to win," Earleywine said.
The mistake was not hers.
At the top of the inning, Earleywine beckoned Finucane over to the dugout. She ran off the field, and freshman pitcher Casey Stangel took her place in the circle.
The plan was to have left-handed Stangel match up against Alabama's lefty hitters. But the first batter she faced, Alabama shortstop Danae Hays, is right-handed.
"I wanna fully take the blame for the loss because I should've waited another batter to bring Casey in," Earleywine said. Hays singled and scored later in the inning to give Alabama a 2-1 lead. "That part of it's my fault, and potentially, that could've been the difference in the game."
That wasn't the only mistake, though.
In the top of the second inning, Missouri third baseman Angela Randazzo let out a big sigh. She'd struggled with a ball hit by Alabama third baseman Peyton Grantham and allowed her to load the bases.
It was the first of Missouri's three errors.
"Two or three people on the infield just didn't show up," Earleywine said.
It all led to the Alabama pile and the Crimson Tide's outright SEC regular season title.
But it also fueled the Tigers' desire for at least a series win Saturday.
"Them celebrating on our field was disgusting to watch," Missouri shortstop Corrin Genovese said. "Ultimately, if we win the series tomorrow, that's not gonna feel as good for them."
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.