After his team completed a two-game sweep of Texas Tech on April 30, Tigers coach Ty Singleton put the achievement in perspective.
“We have to win the Big 12 tournament to make the (NCAA) tournament,” Singleton said.
For a team that won 44 games last season, struggling to make the NCAA tournament could be considered a disappointment. Coming into this season, ESPN.com ranked the Tigers No. 18 in the country. Missouri was also less than a year removed from making it to the Big 12 Conference tournament final, a game they lost to Texas. This year, the Tigers finished 23-25 overall and 7-11 in the Big 12. It’s a season that Singleton said was one of his most challenging.
“There have been a lot of sleepless nights this season,” Singleton said. “This year has been filled with many challenges us for us as a team.”
To match the accomplishments of last season’s team, this year’s version will have to overcome an obstacle that the 2005 team didn’t: a play-in game. Because of its seventh-place finish (out of 10 teams), Missouri has to win an extra game to advance to the eight-team, double elimination tournament held this week in Oklahoma City. If the Tigers lose their 5 p.m. game today against 10-seed Texas Tech (19-34, 4-13), their season is over. If they win, the Tigers will face 2-seed Nebraska (40-8, 13-4) at 7:30 p.m.
“We’re going to have to play better than we have for much of the season,” Singleton said. “We have to get hot.”
One reason the team is in its current position is its hitting. The team batting average, .268, is 32 points lower than last season’s. The Tigers have also struggled to find a consistent approach, ranging between over- and non-aggression. In their past four games, the Tigers have averaged just 3.25 runs per game, but Tigers first baseman Amanda Renth said there’s still time for Missouri to turn it around.
“I think we’re starting to come around right now,” Renth said. “If we swing the bats well, we’ll give Jen (Bruck) a lot more to work with.”
Bruck, who will be making her 42nd pitching appearance of the season, said she isn’t satisfied with the way the season has gone for her team.
“We’re definitely disappointed that we’re as far down in the conference standings as we are,” she said. “It’s motivation for us to turn our season around.”
The success of last year’s team also motivates Bruck.
“I think about last year’s team every day,” she said. “There have been times where I’ve been thinking about it when I shouldn’t be.”
Featuring departed shortstop Heather Kunkel and pitchers Erica Peterson and Erin Kalka, last season’s Tigers advanced to the NCAA tournament, where they lost to Stanford. Without Peterson and Kalka, the Tigers’ pitching depth has been stretched, something that Singleton said has challenged his team all year.
“When we saw that we were going to be depending on one pitcher for the entire season, I knew it was going to be a challenging season,” Singleton said. “Jen has been fantastic for the first five innings of games but it’s the last two that need to improve.
“I’ve had a chance to say some things, as a coach, that I haven’t had a chance to say before. It forces you to evaluate the level of passion you have for your game.”
Seemingly, Bruck’s level of passion for the game is still high.
“We know that we can beat every team we have played this season,” Bruck said. “It’s a matter of us going out there and doing it.”