At the west side of the Sports Park at MU, University Field and Walton Stadium are connected. The two facilities share bathrooms, food carts and concourses. During most softball games, the occasional foul ball that flies over University Field’s bleachers bounces off the empty seats at Walton Stadium.
On Saturday, those foul balls did not find empty seats. Instead, they landed among spectators watching the Missouri Relays track meet. The relays, which filled Walton Stadium, provided a boisterous backdrop for the Missouri softball team’s Big 12 Conference home opener against Baylor. The sounds of starting guns firing and fans desperately encouraging runners wafted towards the diamond.
“There’s a lot of energy, a lot of different things going on. When we’ve had track meets in the past, it’s always been a positive,” Missouri softball coach Ty Singleton said. “There’s always been positive energy. Today we had a different approach.”
That different approach led to a different result for Missouri. The past two years that the Tigers (18-14, 2-1) have had a home softball game opposite the relays, they won, beating Oklahoma State in 2004 and Texas in 2005. On Saturday, Missouri generated only four hits, losing 7-0 to Baylor. The poor approach of Missouri’s offense, an offense which scored 31 runs in five games last week against Oklahoma and UNLV, confused Singleton.
“It’s been a big challenge to figure out what it is, what’s changed. We’ve trained the same way as last year,” Singleton said.
Last season, the Tigers hit .300 as a team. This season, Missouri is hitting .275, but has played only one-sixth of its Big 12 schedule.
“I am growing as a coach,” Singleton said, “learning as a coach and trying to make the adjustments.”
One of the problems Missouri is having is getting behind at the plate. Instead of looking to hit early in the count, the Tigers are letting good pitches go by.
“We’re taking too many good first pitches to hit,” said Missouri pitcher Jen Bruck, who went 0-for-3 with two popouts and a strikeout. “Then we get behind and think ‘Oh no, I gotta get a hit,’ and then we get too anxious and swing at too many balls.”
To try to get his team to be more aggressive early in at-bats, Singleton put his team through a drill during Friday’s practice he calls the one-strike drill. Instead of having three strikes to work with, the hitter only has one strike, with the intended effect being increased aggression. Singleton said his team did a “nice job” in the drill Friday, but that it didn’t carry over to Saturday.
“I think we’re capable of doing it. I don’t think, I know we’re capable of doing it,” Singleton said. “We’re just going to have to find a way to make that change mentally.”
One hitter who made that change was center fielder Micaela Minner. Minner went 1-for-3 with a double and two hard groundouts. The double came on the first pitch she saw in the bottom of the fourth. However, Missouri’s next three hitters left her standing at second to end the inning.
“When you start the inning with a runner on second, you hope to put the ball on the ground to at least move them over,” Minner said. “We got four hits, but we’re not putting them together. You can score three runs on four hits.”
Minner promised that her team would play better today, stopping short of guaranteeing a win.
“We’re going to come back tomorrow and beat them,” Minner said. “Nothing’s 100 percent guaranteed, but we’re going to come back, and we’re going to fight a lot harder.”
The starting time for today’s game was changed from 1 p.m. to noon.