SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Tamara Brown’s eighth-inning sacrifice fly produced the lone run of the evening for Oklahoma State, as Simone Freeman and Kat Espinosa combined to blank the Missouri State softball team, 1-0, Tuesday at Killian Stadium. The Cowgirls (26-6) spoiled a standout performance in the circle by MSU junior Natalie Rose, who held the No. 18 team in the nation scoreless for seven innings before an unearned run in the decisive frame proved to be the difference.
After being limited to just five hits through seven innings, the Cowgirls finally broke through in the eighth against Rose (6-9), getting back-to-back singles from Ari Morrison and Alysia Hamilton before a costly MSU miscue set the table for OSU’s key rally. Attempting to move the runners over with a sacrifice, Julie Ward laid down a bunt in front of the plate that catcher Madison Hargrove fielded and fired to first base, where second baseman Christa Gammon was covering. But the throw and Ward arrived roughly at the same time and Gammon couldn’t squeeze the ball to complete the putout, loading the bases for OSU with nobody out.
Rose recovered to fan Chelsea Garcia for one of her eight strikeouts on the night. But Brown lifted a liner into the gap in right-center, forcing Raeven Replogle to make a diving catch and allowing Morrison to trot home with what would prove to be the game winner.
The Bears threatened in their half of the eighth, as Hargrove led-off the inning with her second hit of the game-a looping single to right. Tyler Porter sacrificed pinch-runner Ciara Flau over to second before Gammon flied out to left for the second out. Espinosa then wasted little time in retiring pinch-hitter Heather Duckworth, sitting the MSU freshman down with three straight strikes to end the contest.
Close calls were the story of the day for Missouri State on the offensive side of the ball. The Bears saw scoring opportunities in both the second and third innings go by the wayside, while Rose was holding the Cowgirls in check by not allowing a single baserunner past second until the decisive eighth inning.
MSU’s first chance to crack the scoring column came with two out in the second, when Replogle doubled into the gap in left-center. Lauren Eisenreich followed with a single to left, but Morrison gunned down Replogle at the plate to squash the threat.
The next inning, MSU loaded the bases before Freeman could record an out, with Hargrove reviving the Bears offense with a lead-off single. Porter reached on a fielder’s choice, and Gammon beat out a throw to first on a sacrifice attempt when OSU catcher Ashley Boyd juggled the ball. But Kirstin Cutter’s grounder to short allowed the Cowgirls to cut down pinch-runner Kerri Cunningham at the plate, and Jenna Schwark lined into an unassisted double-play at third to end the inning and keep it a scoreless affair.
Neither team would mount much of a scoring chance until the top of the seventh, when Oklahoma State put a pair of runners on with two out. But Rose avoided any damage when she got Mariah Gearhart to look at a called third strike for the final out.
Espinosa (13-2), who came on in relief of Freeman in the sixth, was in control by that point, as the sophomore retired the first six batters she faced until Hargrove’s lead-off single in the eighth. In all, Espinosa would fan four Bears and allow just one hit over three scoreless innings.
For her part, Rose was nearly as effective, scattering seven hits and walking just one in the complete-game effort, which resulted in her sixth loss to a ranked opponent this season.
Up next, Missouri State (11-11) travels to Terre Haute, Ind., this weekend for a three-game Missouri Valley Conference series against Indiana State. The two clubs will kick-off the set with a noon doubleheader Saturday (March 26) at Price Field, then play a single game at the same time Sunday (March 27).
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