Chloe Rathburn put the Tigers back in the game, but No. 15 Mizzou fell 5-3 to No. 2 seed Michigan in the Super Regional opener on Saturday.
Rathburn’s rocket over the fence put her Tigers on the board after they trailed 3-0 in the top of the third inning. She watched a strike go by, geared up and sent the next one flying for a two-run homer.
“We didn’t play great, (but) we still made a game of it,” Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. “We pitched pretty average and didn’t play very good defense.
“The margin of error’s small when you get to this level of a game. But again, I think the encouraging thing is, we didn’t play great and we still had a chance to win it.”
Missouri is down 1-0 in the best-of-three series and will have to beat Michigan twice Sunday to win the Super Regional and advance to the women’s College World Series. The Tigers and Wolverines play at noon Sunday. Game 3, if necessary, is schedule for 3 p.m.
The Wolverines took a lead right away with three runs in the first inning on Saturday. Tera Blanco, with the bases loaded and one out, smacked a two-run double to center field. Two batters later, Lindsay Montemarano was hit by a pitch from Missouri’s Paige Lowary, which scored Kelly Christner from third base.
In the bottom of the fifth, Montemarano came up big when she sent a two-run home run over the fence that extended Michigan’s lead to 5-2. Mizzou again closed the gap with Kirsten Mack’s solo bomb over the left-field wall in the top of the sixth inning, but it was the last of the Tigers’ scoring.
Mack led the Tigers on the day with two of the team’s seven hits in her three at-bats.
Pitching ace Lowary struck out three and allowed five runs on seven hits in six innings in the circle.
Despite leaving runners stranded on base throughout the afternoon, the Tigers remained confident heading into Sunday.
“Like coach said, we didn’t play a very good ball game today, and we still made it a close game,” Mack said. “I think we have to clean up the little things.”
Mizzou battled through adversity when Regan Nash was called out at first on a close call moments before Mack’s blast in the sixth.
“(It was) pretty big,” Earleywine said. “It’s not a two-out single; that’s a leadoff single with a kid that can really run.
“I thought it was the difference maker, and it’s unfortunate we don’t have instant replay in college softball.”
Earlier this season the Wolverines knocked off the Tigers 13-0 in five innings, but both sides knew the Super Regional could be different.
“Missouri’s a different team than they were when we played them, and we knew that,” Michigan second baseman Sierra Romero said. “The best teams are playing right now, so they’re one of the best teams and we couldn’t take a pitch off.”
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins knew it would be a tough battle.
“The kids are fighting,” she said. “I’m most pleased that they came out and scratched and clawed, which is the only way you’re going to get through this tournament.
“Regardless of who we’re playing, that’s how you get through the Super Regional. You’ve got to scratch and claw, and there’s a game within a game.”