Heather Kunkel stepped to the plate in the first inning of Missouri’s game Tuesday and shot a quick look at the Southwest Missouri State pitcher.
The exchange was nothing like your typical pitcher-hitter stare-down. There was no intimidation, no hostility.
It was two friends acknowledging one another before they went to work.
Kunkel and SMS junior Samantha Fleeman were teammates on the Missouri softball team the past two seasons. They were roommates last year.
“I knew she was coming with her best stuff, and I was coming out with my best stuff,” Kunkel said.
Kunkel got the best of Fleeman (1-3), smacking a three-run double to right field on the first pitch she saw.
But the pride from winning the at-bat subsided as soon as Kunkel reached second base.
She doesn’t plan to bring it up with Fleeman in the future.
“I think I’ll drop it,” Kunkel said. “She’s too good of a friend.”
Kunkel’s hit opened the scoring for Missouri in its 12th straight win, an 8-0 defeat of the Bears (5-10) in five innings.
Winning pitcher Jen Bruck (11-1) and Erica Peterson combined on a no-hitter for Missouri (21-2). Bruck came within an out of completing the game. She struck out five.
The Tigers led 4-0, halfway to the eight-run rule, in the bottom of the fifth inning.
“We were thinking, ‘Let’s get four more and get out of here early,’” Bruck said.
Kunkel hit a two-run home run that drew Missouri closer to its goal. The opposite-field shot sailed over the right-field wall and nearly hit a passing car.
By the time Bruck came to bat with the bases loaded and one out, the stage was set for a shortened game.
Bruck took the first pitch, a strike down the middle. Missouri coach Ty Singleton called timeout to consult with his player.
“I just checked in to say, ‘I felt like that last pitch was a pretty good pitch to hit,’” Singleton said. “I just wanted to make sure she was in an aggressive mindset.”
Singleton’s advice worked. Bruck hit a ground ball through the left side of the infield on the next pitch, ending the game.
Singleton felt Missouri responded well to the challenge of playing on a Tuesday, which has been the team’s off day for the past five weeks.
“Your body is kind of in a rhythm going, ‘We play on the weekend, we have a light practice on Monday, we’re off Tuesday,’” he said.
TIGERS ON THE RADIO: KCOU/88.1 FM will broadcast 16 of Missouri’s 22 remaining home games.
Missouri’s Sunday games in the Tiger Classic are the next scheduled for broadcast. The Tigers play Louisiana Tech at 12:30 p.m. and the University of Missouri-Kansas City at 3 p.m.
“It’s nice to have that exposure,” Singleton said. “That’s exciting.”