At the beginning of the season, there were few expectations for the Missouri softball team.
The Tigers were picked eighth in the preseason Big 12 rankings, and coach Ehren Earleywine was starting his first season at Missouri.
Although Earleywine said his competitive nature always made him want to win, at the same time, he knew that the pieces had to be in place to win.
“No matter how much you want to win, you have to have talent,” Earleywine said. “It took me some time to watch our kids practice, because I didn’t know what I was getting. I knew that we had some fairly talented players and that Jen Bruck was a dominating type pitcher.”
The way the Tigers have been playing lately, Earleywine is getting used to good softball.
Missouri has been so good that a sweep this weekend against Nebraska at University Field in its last two games of the regular season guarantees the Tigers at least a share of the Big 12 Conference title.
The 1997 Missouri softball team’s Big 12 title was the most recent time a Missouri team won a conference title.
Baylor leads Missouri by half a game after beating visiting No. 23 Texas 5-2 Thursday. After the Tigers split last weekend’s series with Baylor, the Tigers jumped three spots to No. 18 in the national poll. Earleywine said that splitting against the seventh-ranked team in the nation wasn’t bad.
“We’re not ashamed of that,” Earleywine said.
Missouri (36-20, 12-3) is set to play the Cornhuskers (36-16, 9-7) at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday, and Baylor (43-12, 13-3) finishes its regular season by playing host to Texas A&M (39-8, 12-5) at 4 p.m. Saturday. Missouri has set special ticket prices for the Nebraska series including $1 admission for all fans Sunday.
If Baylor and Missouri finished the season tied for the regular season conference championship, the Bears would be the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 tournament because they outscored Missouri 6-4 last weekend.
But before Missouri thinks about that, it has to focus on Nebraska despite the distractions of the division race, which Earleywine said he could see on his players’ faces during practice.
“We’re going to have to swing the bats this weekend, Nebraska’s got some really good pitchers,” Earleywine said. “I figure if our offense can score three, to four, to five runs in each game, we should have a good chance to win.”
After struggling early in the season, Bruck has improved and has a 2.82 ERA in 36 appearances. Earleywine said that Bruck would most likely start Saturday’s game.
“She could throw seven both days if she’s going well,” Earleywine said.