Tigers on the title prowl

MU softball team opens Big 12 tournament against strong Texas team
Friday, May 11, 2007 | 1:22 a.m. CDT; updated 3:57 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine, second from right, discusses game strategy during a conference with his team against Nebraska on Sunday. With the Tigers’ offense struggling recently, Earleywine has said they will have to play a perfect game to win against Texas.

After coming up short in its quest for the university’s second Big 12 Conference regular season championship, the Missouri softball team starts it’s pursuit of a Big 12 tournament championship today when they play Texas at 1:30 p.m. at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.

With a win Sunday against Nebraska, Missouri (37-21, 13-4) would have clinched a share of the regular season title with Baylor, but would have been seeded second in the tournament by virtue of a tiebreaker.

However, all of that became moot after the Tigers’ 3-1 loss against the Cornhuskers on the final day of the regular season, dropping Missouri to the No. 3 seed.

While the Tigers ended up on the same side of the bracket they would have been on with a win, they drew No. 6 Texas (33-17, 8-10) and ace pitcher Meagan Denny, instead of the winner of the game between No. 7 Kansas and No. 10 Iowa State.

Denny is 20-14 with a 1.53 ERA in 42 appearances this season.

Combine that with the recent inconsistency of the Missouri offense, which has scored just one run in its past two losses, and Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine feels that the Tigers must play an almost perfect game to win.

“I definitely think that our offense has the questions to answer right now. It’s tough when you’re struggling and you face Meagan Denny, who I feel is one of the better pitchers in the country,” Earleywine said after practice on Thursday in Oklahoma City.

But Denny had little success the last time she faced the Tigers. On March 31, Missouri forced Denny out of the game after she gave up 7 hits and 6 runs in 3 2/3 innings in a 6-4 Missouri win.

Missouri went on to win the second game of their weekend series against the Longhorns, but Earleywine said he is a little wary about trying to beat Texas for a third time.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, it’s hard to beat anyone three times,” Earleywine said. “I don’t think that beating them twice really helps us. Our biggest concern is if the kids feel that they just need to walk out there and we win the game.”

If Missouri wins, they would play in the semifinals at 4:30 this afternoon. The championship game is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday.

A good showing at the Big 12 tournament would also boost the Tigers’ chances of hosting an NCAA regional at University Field.

“I think we have a chance at hosting a regional, and I think our showing here will dictate that,” Earleywine said. “If we finish two, three or four, we will have a pretty good chance to host.”

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