Back to Arkansas, Lions softball team looks to continue hot start

Feb. 8—Missouri Southern softball couldn't have asked for anything more in its first weekend of the 2024 season. The Lions won all five contests in the Ronnie Hawkins/Mike McGhee Memorial Tournament in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

The Lions had to deal with the rain in two of those five games last weekend. They won three games in shortened run-rule competitions. They scored 10 or more runs in two games and shut out their opponent twice. There was even an extra-inning contest that was won 6-5 in the ninth inning by MSSU.

"It was good to get out there again," MSSU head coach Hallie Blackney said. "We had to play through the rain ... then earn an extra-inning win ... so I'm proud of our kids for that. We got some good pitching."

That extra-inning game was against Henderson State — a team that Blackney says hits well and was a tough out at their home tournament. Last year, the Reddies beat MSSU once in the same tournament.

Now, sporting that 5-0 record, the team will head back to Arkansas — Bentonville this time — to compete in the Alvy Early Memorial Classic at Memorial Park. Blackney has talked about inclusion of all of her players and the importance of making each individual feel like they're part of the team.

"We're excited because we were able to utilize everyone (last weekend) and they all took advantage of their opportunities," Blackney said. "We have a lot of talent on this team and athletes. We're especially new up the middle (defense) and we are challenging everyone to 'find yourself' during these early season games."

There is a particular word that the softball team attaches to that as a sort of a mantra. That word is "mudita."

Mudita — as written in an article by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln — is a Sanskrit and Pali word that lacks a direct translation to English. But the word is recognized as the joy one feels for another's good fortune, accomplishments or luck. It can be explained as a selfless feeling of pride when someone we care about does well.

So, the Lions share that mudita across the field and in the dugout with one another.

Blackney sees that in her team this year through the tough competition for starting spots in areas that had to be filled due to players who graduated from last year, especially in the middle of the infield.

One example in particular is actually at the third-base position with Abby DeSanto and Reese Davis. Both Davis and DeSanto are competing for time at that spot but the irony is that both players came from Richland High School in North Richland Hills, Texas.

As Blackney watched them this past weekend she could see that mudita being expressed from one another as former high school teammates and now college teammates despite being six hours and 400 miles from home. DeSanto is in her junior year at MSSU while Davis is a freshman.


Southern was originally scheduled to play two games on Friday, two Saturday and two Sunday. But with potential bad weather in the forecast for Sunday, all games in the classic have been canceled for Sunday and some have been rescheduled for Friday or Saturday.

Three of the six opponents were going to be teams that had played in a regional tournament last year or had made it even further.

"Anytime you can play tough competition to prepare for the MIAA conference it's a good thing. You want to be tested early and you want to have those tough games. You want to play in as many tough games as possible," Blackney said.

The Lions will now play five games for the weekend and have three on Friday. Their day begins with eighth-ranked University of Texas at Tyler with an 11 a.m. start. They get back-to-back games as Game 2 is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. against Truman State.

Saturday's slate is 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. against the University of Illinois-Springfield and Southwest Baptist University, respectively.

MSSU will not end up playing Southeastern Oklahoma State University as originally scheduled to play on Sunday.

Friday morning's game against No. 8 UT-Tyler (4-1) is one to keep an eye on. The Patriots were ranked eighth in the preseason polls released by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association this year and the Lions were receiving votes to be ranked.

UT-Tyler was in the Division II Women's College World Series last year while MSSU fell in the Central Regional.

"They hit well and draw a ton of walks," Blackney said of the Patriots. "They have a new pitching staff but both teams will have to play good to win this game."

Missouri S&T of Rolla is 2-2 to start its season. UIS has yet to begin its season along with Truman and SBU.