Missouri softball beats Kansas in renewed rivalry

Saturday, May 17, 2014 | 10:52 p.m. CDT; updated 7:09 a.m. CDT, Monday, May 19, 2014
The MU softball team defeated the Kansas Jayhawks Saturday 6-3 in an NCAA regional matchup.

COLUMBIA — Within minutes of arriving at University Field, Julian Vizitei had found his target. 

Vizitei, the newly chosen "Grand Poobah" of Missouri's student fan group the Antlers, met with friends near the left-field wall. There, they began heckling Kansas outfielder Taylor Hatfield in the third game of the NCAA softball regionals in Columbia.

That's right — Kansas. Missouri's switch to the Southeastern Conference put a halt to the Border Showdown, but the oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi River was temporarily renewed when the two schools won their first games of the regional on Friday. Hatfield and the rest of the Jayhawks were in the McCoy's domain, so to speak.

And Missouri made the most of its meeting against its old rivals. Kirsten Mack's two-run home run in the second inning gave the Tigers an early lead and freshman pitcher Casey Stangel made sure it held up in a 6-3 win that puts Missouri in the driver's seat heading into Sunday's action. The lone undefeated team in the field, the Tigers will have two chances to capture the regional title Sunday against Nebraska. The first game begins at noon.

Saturday's Kansas-Missouri redux was atypical. Because it was part of a tournament, Kansas was the designated home team despite playing on the Tigers' field. But that didn't stop hecklers like Vizitei from making University Field a rough atmosphere for the Jayhawks.

Rivalry restored — for one afternoon at least.

"I just think that the whole rivalry thing shouldn't be dead, but for some reason it is," Missouri shortstop Corrin Genovese said.

Genovese, a junior, was on the team for the last Missouri-Kansas series in 2012, which the Tigers swept. For some Missouri players, this was their first taste.

"I'm a freshman, so it was just another game for me," Mack said. "It meant nothing more and nothing less than it was a regional game. I think for most of the freshmen that was good because we weren't tense or anything."

Kansas coach Megan Smith said her team treated it just like any other game. 

"We spent the weekend focused on (regional foes) Missouri, Bradley and Nebraska, all three equally," Smith said. 

Both sides appeared tense early on. Missouri's Taylor Gadbois walked to lead off the game and was later called out after leaving early on a steal attempt. Then, Hatfield dropped an Emily Crane fly ball, to the delight of the Antlers. 

A bang-bang play at the plate proved to be the first inning's defining moment, though. Missouri outfielder Emily Crane was thrown out at home. Kansas fans, who sat in the third-base stands, went wild. Missouri fans, who filled most of the 1,392-person crowd, were furious. 

Missouri head coach Ehren Earleywine argued with multiple umpires and even tournament officials about the call. Missouri's Angela Randazzo, who was on deck, took her practice swings ferociously. The ice had been broken, and Missouri, rivalry or not, was now on edge.

"I was deflated when Taylor got called out for leaving early and I thought there was an obstruction at home plate," Earleywine said. "I thought, 'It should be two-nothing right now.'"

Missouri made up the offense later in the game, though. Randazzo had three hits and three RBIs, including a deep home run in the fifth inning.

Supervising editor is Mark Selig.

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