By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
If ever there was a must-win doubleheader for Missouri Southern softball, it’s now, coach Bill Gray said.
The Lions currently are on the outside looking in when it comes to the MIAA Postseason Tournament, but six league games — all at home — remain on their schedule and hope is far from lost.
That makes today’s 4 p.m. doubleheader with Lincoln pretty important.
“These are huge,” Gray said. “We’ve got to have these and we need a little help.”
MSSU is 9-13 in the MIAA after Tuesday’s split at Pittsburg State. Truman State sits in the coveted eighth position at 9-9, followed by Pitt State at 10-12. Truman State still has 10 conference games scheduled. Pitt State, like Southern, has six remaining.
“We need a minimum of five of these last six and six out of six would really be the way to go,” Gray said.
The Lions had a team meeting and a light workout on Wednesday following their late-night, come-from-behind 11-8 win in extra innings in Tuesday’s nightcap.
“The kids and us coaches were pretty emotionally and physically drained after Tuesday night,” Gray said. “But this group is very workmanlike. They go out and try to do what needs to be done. We usually do, it just depends on how we start.
“If things get rolling our way early, we can make it a long day for the other team. If we show up late, it can be a long day for us.”
That was evident on Tuesday.
The Lions lost the opener 5-1 and trailed 4-1 heading into the sixth inning of the nightcap.
But the offense caught fire in a hurry, erupting for seven runs on eight hits in the top of the sixth to take an 8-4 lead.
The Gorillas eventually tied the game with three runs in the bottom of the seventh before Southern won it in the eighth.
“I think it actually helped us that Pitt State came back like they did.” Gray said. “We had to face a little adversity, and we overcame it. They kind of saw ‘Hey, we can do this.’ There have been other times this spring where we faced adversity and it whipped us.”
Gray said he plans to start freshman Haley Kinnison (6-4 with a 3.43 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 60 walks) in the opener before pitching Sarah Williams (6-6 and 2.83 with 41 strikeouts and 44 walks) in the nightcap.
Lincoln enters the matchup 5-11 in MIAA play and 13-16-1 overall.
The Lions, Gray said, hope to utilize the speed at the top of their lineup against the Blue Tigers.
“If we can play fast-break softball, that’s what we prefer to do,” he said. “If Alana Hester gets on base, you can see and feel the confidence in the kids rise. We can steal second, bunt, get her to third and she can easily score on a sacrifice fly.
“Good defense and hitting is contagious. If the top of our order gets going, it’s a good thing.”
Hester, the Lions’ leadoff hitter, ranks second in the conference with 24 stolen bases in 30 attempts. It’s the most by a Lion since Erin Turner’s school-record 47 thefts in 2001.