COLUMBIA — Senior left fielder Mackenzie Sykes walked to the dugout with her head down and her bat resting over her shoulder. She fiddled with her gloves and turned around to wish the Alabama softball team, which had just struck her out to secure a victory 2-0, a good game.
Friday, the No. 13 Tigers stood at the same spot on the field with their arms crossed as the No. 6 Tide dog piled in celebration of its 3-1 Game 2 win. Watching them celebrate on their home turf had upset the Tigers (41-15, 15-9 Southeastern Conference), and drove them to try to stop Alabama (44-10, 19-5) from taking the series.
Instead, Saturday’s rubber match was a drawn-out game of errors and dullness — Alabama’s only two runs were both unearned.
“It kinda didn't roll our way today," freshman pitcher Casey Stangel said Saturday. "We had some fight, but we just came up a little short."
The game had all the qualifications of an exciting matchup. ESPNU set up its giant cameras once again, and a second-straight sellout crowd amped up hype for the game. A large No. 4 and a No. 14 were painted boldly in the outfield with white lettering and gold trim. They represented Sykes’ and senior pitcher Alora Marble’s final regular season home game as Tigers. Former softball players sat among the crowd to be recognized during the game.
But errors and failures to adjust took away from that atmosphere and plagued Missouri’s performance.
"This is the time of the year where you're expecting your kids to be really savvy and have really smart at-bats and seasoned-looking approaches," Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. "We batted for 14 innings and scored one run, essentially, in the last two games off their No. 2 and No. 3 pitcher. Obviously, we gotta get better."
In the top of the third inning, an Alabama runner crossed the plate easily as Missouri committed a throwing error while attempting to foil a steal at second base. In the fifth, another Alabama runner made it home on a wild pitch.
“This weekend, we kinda beat ourselves," Stangel said.
Missouri had a chance at livening things up in the final inning after loading the bases with two outs. The crowd kept cheering and stomping.
But it ended in a strikeout and a loss — a loss of the game and the series.
Missouri could still get its chance at revenge against the Tide. The team hopes to face Alabama again in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
“I would love to," Earleywine said. "I'd like to play again right now, actually."
But for now, the Tigers will have to stomach an anticlimactic ending.
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.