Tigers down Jayhawks in comeback
The Border War never disappoints.
Missouri softball squared off against Kansas in Game 2 of the Columbia, Missouri Regional on Saturday, with both teams vying to secure a spot in the Regional Championship on Sunday.
Pitcher Paige Lowary missed a second straight game with stomach illness and a fever, so Missouri coach Ehren Earlewine turned to Tori Finucane with hopes that she could string together her second strong performance of the weekend.
The sophomore had a less stellar outing Saturday than she did Friday against Indiana State, giving up a two-run homer in the top of the first to hand the Missouri offense an early 2-0 deficit.
"In the beginning of the game, she was missing her spots pretty bad," Earleywine said.
But the Tigers responded quickly, as Sami Fagan clubbed a two-run shot of her own to pull Missouri back even heading into the second inning.
Finucane worked herself into jams in the next three innings, but yielded only one more run in the process, with the Jayhawks taking the 3-2 lead into the bottom of the fifth.
"Late, she started hitting her spots better," Earleywine said. "The more (batters) she got out in the middle of the game, the more confidence she got late in the game. She settled in nice."
Entering Saturday, Kansas had been 26-0 when entering the fifth with a lead. After Saturday, they were 26-1.
"They had me worried for a while," Earleywine said. "But quality at-bats in the fifth inning made the difference."
With one out and runners on first and second, Amanda Sanchez roped a single up the middle to score Emily Crane and move Fagan over to third base. Then with the score tied, Kelsey Roth hit a two-run double down the third base line to give the Tigers a 5-3 lead.
Missouri would be tested one more time in the seventh, as two runners reached with two outs to bring the go-ahead run to the plate to the Jayhawks. But, after coming up just short on a diving attempt the previous play, Corrin Genovese made a sliding stop on a hard grounder by Erin McGinley and fired to second base for the out, completing an exciting finish to a thrilling game.
"I don't think I could've thanked her enough," Finucane said of her shortstop's defensive gem. "When I saw that ball I started jumping because I thought maybe it was the end of the game. She just makes incredible plays all the time and it never gets old. It was awesome."
With Kansas beating Indiana State on Saturday night, Sunday's Regional Final will host a Border War Part 2 with a chance to play in a Super Regional on the line. Missouri would advance should they win the first game, though Kansas would need to win Game 3, force a Game 4 later on Sunday and subsequently win again to move on.
Earleywine said after Saturday's win that the plan for pitching on Sunday will once again be to evaluate Lowary in the morning, pitch Finucane in Game 3 if Lowary can't go, and pitch Cheyenne Baxter in Game 4 should it happen and Lowary not be available. Game 3 is scheduled to start at noon, with the potential Game 4 scheduled for 2:30 PM (or the conclusion of Game 3).