In February, eight Missouri freshmen traveled to places any spring break hopeful would drool over. The warmth this group felt, though, wasn’t from carefree fun in the sun; it was the heat of competition.
The Tigers, whose freshmen make up nearly half the team, played tournaments in Florida, California and Louisiana, but emerged with a disappointing 4-11 record.
Their preseason competition was difficult by design.
“We’re throwing them into the fire right from the get-go and getting them comfortable in the fire from the get-go,” coach Ty Singleton said.
Singleton said he needs the younger players to settle in quickly after the departure of seniors Rachel McGinnis and Daisy Mettlach, whom Missouri released from the team this winter for disciplinary reasons.
McGinnis, a third baseman, led the team with a .384 batting average, the second best in the Big 12 Conference. Mettlach’s departure leaves the team with three catchers, one a sophomore and two freshmen.
“Both of them, as their past accolades show, are very capable ball players,” Singleton said. “All that means is it requires our younger ones to step up sooner. They don’t have that year to settle in. Really I think that’s the biggest impact it has on everybody.”
While Missouri has underachieved to date, youth presents it with an expected challenge. Adjusting to Big 12 play challenges freshmen, while experienced players must adjust to newfound leadership roles. The team, which has been practicing indoors since Jan. 14, has used recent warm weather to hold outdoor practices in preparation for homefield competition.
“Being outside is going to help us so much more,” freshman Sarah Stringer said.
Stringer, a second baseman, had two RBIs in Missouri’s most recent game, a 9-0 win against Prairie View A&M University on Sunday.
“Sarah Stringer has already done a beautiful job at second base, and has done a good job offensively,” Singleton said. “You just see her learning at every at bat at every game, getting better.”
In tournament play, batters struggled to recognize bad pitches and to deal with scouting reports touting their weaknesses to opponents. The team uses practice time to focus on a pitch-by-pitch approach to hitting to learn to recognize bad pitches.
“I don’t know of a team that has faced any more live pitching than us,” Singleton said.
This approach is one that will carry the Tigers through their season. Singleton said the Tigers feel capable of winning a Big 12 championship and going to the College World Series. The team is focusing on details.
“What we’re focusing on right now is our approach and making adjustments in our approach,” Singleton said. “With our talent, we make adjustments in our approach; we’ll start getting the results that we want.”
Junior Erin Kalka is the Tigers’ most experienced pitcher and she trades time on the mound with sophomore Samantha Freeman and newcomer Erica Peterson.
“Erin has tremendous movement, Samantha has good movement and an incredible ability to change speeds, and Erica has very good lateral movement,” Singleton said. “It’s a good combo to have all three.”
Taking aggressive play in practice to games has challenged Missouri.
“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we knew we were doing well in practices and we were aggressive in practices,” Kalka said. “We just need to be consistent in our efforts.”