Ehren Earleywine admitted on Saturday night he was a bit surprised his Tigers were into the NCAA Regional championship game with ace pitcher Tori Finucaine benched with an injury. On Sunday afternoon, the loss of its top pitcher caught up with Mizzou.
Nebraska pounded three home runs in an 8-1 win over Mizzou in the deciding game of the regiona. The pair of long balls brought Nebraska's Sunday total to seven and sent Missouri home before the Super Regionals for the first time since 2007.
"I don't want to say it's better," head coach Ehren Earleywine said. "But sometimes losing those nail-biter games for a coach, a one-run game, you go home and think about the 15 things you could have done different to win the game and I don't think that was the case today."
"This isn't where we wanted to end, of course," senior outfield Mackenzie Sykes said after her final game. "Hats off to Nebraska, they were the better team today, but this wasn't our end goal by any stretch of the imagination."
"It's really sad and humiliating and every emotion you can think that could be negative," shortstop Corrin Genovese said. "It's all piled on right now because you have so much potential and you don't fulfill it. That's what, I think, hurts more than anything."
Nebraska second baseman Hailey Decker did most of the damage on her way to a no doubt regional MVP honors. Decker hit two two-run home runs in each game. She drove in eight runs, outscoring Mizzou by three on the day all by herself.
"Probably the best," Decker said when asked to rate this day in her career. "I've never hit that many home runs in a day before."
Missouri had its share of chances. The Tigers had at least one hit in six of the seven innings, but Husker starter Emily Lockman worked around everything except a fifth inning solo home run from Kelsea Roth. Tatum Edwards pitched the final two innings to close things out.
The Tigers' last best chance came in the fifth inning. Mizzou had runners at second and third with one out when Angela Randazzo, who had driven in six runs in the previous two games, rifled the first pitch to deep right field. Nebraska's Kylie Muir reached up and snagged the line drive in the end of her glove, ending the threat and, eventually, Missouri's season.
"I thought for sure that was over the right fielder's head and she makes a great play on it and takes the wind out of you again," Earleywine said. "I'm disappointed, of course, but Nebraska was the better team today."
For the second straight season, Earleywine walks into the offseason wondering what would have happened had his best pitcher been fully healthy.
"I guess I'm human, you wonder what if," Earleywine said. "But what good's that gonna do?"
"There's a lot of talent coming back," Sykes said. "They're a great group of girls and great coaches. They'll be back."
"It just shows how hard it is," Earleywine said. "It's so very difficult to win a regional. We all get accustomed to it around here because we have people like Chelsea Thomas. It just shows you how hard it is."