Missouri softball could face Kansas in regional

Monday, May 12, 2014 | 5:50 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Cheers broke out in Mizzou Arena's Clinton Club on Sunday night as the Missouri softball team learned it would be hosting a regional for the sixth straight season.

But the excitement wasn't just about not having to travel.

As the NCAA Division I Softball tournament bracket was revealed on ESPNU, Kansas popped up in the lower right section — accompanying Missouri in the Columbia Regional. That meant there's a chance the rivals will meet for the first time in any sport since Missouri moved from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference in 2012.

Some younger Tigers don't know much about the rivalry. Freshman pitcher Tori Finucane just read a bit about the rivalry when she came to Missouri.

But others are excited to possibly meet the Jayhawks again.

"You know, it’s just fun, the whole rivalry with KU, and it’s just exciting to keep it going," junior infielder Corrin Genovese said. "I know they’re kinda scared to play us in football and basketball, so it’s good that we can keep tradition going and hopefully let them know who’s boss and who will always be better in the rivalry."

The schools have not played against each other in football or basketball since Missouri's departure from the Big 12. For the softball teams to play, both would need the same result in their opening games on Friday. No. 15 Missouri hosts Bradley at 3 p.m., after Kansas plays Nebraska at 12:30 p.m. 

Missouri swept its series with Kansas in 2012, but the teams haven't met in two years — even though Missouri wanted to.

"The first year, we contacted them and they responded pretty quick, said that that wasn’t gonna be a possibility," Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. "And I don’t think it’s something that the softball coaches decided. I think that was handed down from the administration. Hopefully, we win our first game, and they win their first game, and we can make that happen."

But even with all the rivalry hype, Missouri can't forget about the other teams in its regional.

The Tigers faced the Bradley Braves earlier this season in the Citrus Classic.

"I remember our coaches saying, ‘Don’t take this team lightly. This is a regional team,’" Genovese said. "They actually did say that. It’s kind of ironic that we got to see them."

Missouri really shouldn't have taken Bradley lightly — the game remained scoreless until the bottom of the sixth inning, where Missouri squeaked out a 1-0 win against what Earleywine called the "pesky" Braves.

And then there's Nebraska, a team that just became regular season Big 10 co-champions with Michigan. Earleywine said he would rather not have the Cornhuskers in Missouri's regional.

"That’s a very, very strong No. 2 seed in our regional tournament," he said. "They could be a 1-seed very easily."

That's especially true after Missouri's disappointing run in the SEC Tournament last weekend, where it fell as a No. 3 seed to No. 6 LSU 6-0 in the quarterfinals. With regional play right around the corner, Missouri is working to make sure that doesn't happen again.

Members of the team walked around a little sore as they loaded their plates for Sunday's selection show watch party.

"The last two days have been the two hardest practices that we’ve had since I’ve been here at the University of Missouri," Earleywine said.

Finucane, especially, might have to work through soreness. Earleywine plans on starting the ace in consecutive games this weekend.

The team isn't worried.

"You know, when we’re growing up, we play five games in a day sometimes," senior left fielder Mackenzie Sykes said. "So I think three over the course of a weekend … she can do that. She’s done it in SEC play a few times."

Those few times include Missouri's series against Alabama — a team Missouri could face in a super regional. After the Tide dog piled on University Field after taking the outright SEC regular season title, Missouri "absolutely" hopes that happens, Earleywine said.

But whether it happens and whether Missouri gets to rekindle the rivalry with Kansas, the team is just grateful to be at this point.

"I hate to say this, but my wife, she came to me the other day when I was really frustrated after our LSU loss," Earleywine said. "And she said, ‘Just remember, about a month and a half ago, you said we’re gonna be lucky to be 500.’"

Supervising editor is Mark Selig.

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