The Big 12 Conference championship drought continues for Missouri athletics.
Needing a win to share the Big 12 title with Baylor, the No. 18 Missouri softball team lost to Nebraska 3-1 on Sunday at University Field, falling below Oklahoma to third in the final regular season standings.
A victory would have given Missouri its first Big 12 team championship since the 1997 softball team’s title.
This year’s team (37-21, 13-4 in the Big 12) couldn’t get any offense going against Nebraska’s Molly Hill, and defensive miscues led to two of the three Cornhuskers runs.
Missouri starter Jen Bruck (19-8) had a no-hitter through 3 2/3 innings, but a dropped fly-ball by rightfielder Julie Silver and an errant throw by Bruck on a suicide squeeze in the fifth inning gave the Cornhuskers a 2-0 lead.
Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine credited the win to Hill’s pitching and the team play of Nebraska (37-20, 10-8).
“We just didn’t make the plays defensively,” Earleywine said, “and we gave them a walk there in that same inning where there were some defensive miscues. You combine those things together, and that’s what Nebraska does. They try to scratch for two or three runs, and hopefully their pitcher throws a shutout, and that’s what they did today.”
While the Tigers scored one run in the bottom of the seventh, Hill worked her way around base runners to complete the game. At the plate, Missouri looked anxious as the game grew longer and storm clouds blew in.
“I don’t think we panicked, though,” Earleywine said. “I think she just pitched better than we hit.”
With the implications of the game, and that Sunday was Senior Day for the six Missouri seniors, Missouri’s finale against Nebraska seemed preordained for a storybook ending to the season. Nebraska, however, played the role of spoiler, something Hill says she relished.
“We were really excited about that,” she said. “But, we were really disgusted with our performance yesterday, and we just wanted to come in differently.”
After the game, dejected Missouri players huddled around their coach in right field. Earleywine tried to stay positive, despite the obvious disappointment of slipping to a No. 3 seed in the conference tournament.
“Nobody expected us to be in this position in the first place,” Earleywine said after his players
went back to the dugout, making reference to Missouri’s projected eighth-place finish at the state of the season. “Just to be here was an accomplishment. Winning championships doesn’t change your life. ”
Junior first-baseman Amanda Renth echoed her coach.
“We’re going to go out and play like we’ve been playing,” she said, “and go out and get some wins in the Big 12 tournament, and hopefully get a great regional seed and be ready to go.
“We’ll be ready to play when we get down to Oklahoma City.”
Earleywine, acknowledging the disappointment for Missouri’s fans, offered one last positive message.
“There’s a good chance we’re going to host a regional tournament,” Earleywine said. “We’re going to maybe send our home fans off on a good note with maybe, possibly going to a super-regional if we fare well. There’s a lot of season left, and we still have the conference tournament ahead.
“Like I said, we’ve already far exceeded everyone’s expectations, so we have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Missouri will play sixth-seeded Texas at 11:30 a.m. Friday in the Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City. The Tigers swept the Longhorns earlier this season.