Efficient offense drives Missouri to series-clinching win over Auburn

Missouri sophomore Emma Nichols pitches in the third inning Saturday at the Mizzou Softball Stadium. Nichols went 2.2 innings, letting up four earned runs and striking out two batters.

Ben Miglore

When No. 24 Auburn drove Missouri softball starter Emma Nichols from the game in the third after picking up its fourth run in the inning Saturday, it didn’t take long for her teammates to avenge her.

Kimberly Wert stepped into the box with two on and nobody out. When she stepped out, it was after sending a ball over the wall to tie the game and take sole possession of seventh place on Missouri’s all-time home run list with her 33rd blast for the Tigers.

The rest of the game followed the same pattern, with the teams trading runs until they ran out of innings. No. 18 Missouri came out on top in the end by a final score of 6-5, setting up a potential series sweep at the Mizzou Softball Stadium.

Nichols started Saturday’s game by not allowing a hit in the first two innings. After she had pitched three innings to close out Friday’s win, however, Missouri coach Larissa Anderson said a longer start today was not on the cards.

“I thought she did great in the beginning,” Anderson said. “And then she started to fatigue out.”

After a popout to start the third, Auburn got a pair of quick singles and an eight-pitch walk worked by Tyler King to load the bases. Makenna Dowell put a ball through the right side of the infield, scoring two as Kaylee Horton beat the tag on the throw to the plate. They got two more on an Alyssa Rivera RBI single to take a 4-1 lead before the inning was over.

That set up Wert’s 3-run equalizer. It was her 11th homer of the season and 38th of her career, including her freshman season at Hofstra.

Nichols does not start often, with Saturday being just her fourth time taking the first pitch this season. The high-scoring third ended her day prematurely, allowing Megan Schumacher take over the show. Schumacher held Auburn to one run on three hits over 41⁄3 innings of relief, shutting down any threat the rest of the game.

“I was just going out there and doing what I know how to do and trusting my defense behind me,” Schumacher said.

Auburn also strayed from its typical pattern of starters. Normally alternating Shelby Lowe and Maddie Penta, Auburn ditched that plan in favor of KK Dismukes, who was credited with the loss in Friday’s game.

Dismukes gave up four walks, a hit and a run in 11⁄3 innings Saturday before being pulled for Lexie Handley. Unlike Schumacher for Missouri, Handley couldn’t hold down the fort. In her two innings she allowed five runs on four hits, including the Wert homer. Handley was credited with the loss.

Missouri shortstop Jenna Laird had two of the hits against Handley, one of which drove in the go-ahead run. She was 2 for 4 on the day and now leads the team with a .404 batting average.

Casidy Chaumont also played well in her first start since March 6. She was 2 of 3 with a steal to help Missouri win its fourth straight.