THE TIME IS NOW: Lions need turnaround in final 2 weeks of regular season

Apr. 19—If the Missouri Southern State University softball team wants to turn things into a more positive ending, there is no better time to start than right now.

The Lions were at 29-10 heading into a key matchup with nationally ranked Pittsburg State University at the beginning of this month. Their conference record was 9-3 at that time.

Coming into this weekend they were 29-16 and 9-9 in the MIAA.

"It's going to take resiliency and maturity," MSSU head coach Hallie Blackney said. "It will take embracing the suck. It will take tenacity and wanting to turn it around."

The Lions have dealt with plenty of injuries throughout the season. Eighteen of their 21 rostered athletes have been limited in some fashion this year.

"We've definitely dealt with adversity these last couple weeks," MSSU senior outfielder Yazmin Vargas said. "Looking forward ... just enjoy the moment, have fun and do everything we can to continue to play on."

But that isn't the story the Lions are writing about the 2024 campaign.

"We have been through a lot of injuries but we're doing our part to make sure ... we're recovering well," MSSU senior outfielder Adrianna Young said. "We're a very deep team so, whether someone's out or not, we know we've got each other's back."

Writing the story is actually something coach Blackney had the team do on Tuesday of this week.

"Yesterday we had the girls write a newspaper article and dated it May 6 to visualize it," coach said on Wednesday. "It's not over by any means. Last weekend, we had a bad inning and couldn't stop the bleeding and then it turns into that. There's still an opportunity, but it starts with believing."

That bad inning last weekend was a six-run bottom of the fifth inning that led to Washburn taking a 6-3 lead late in the game. The Lions were leading 3-0 and just couldn't close the door in the final three innings.

Now the Lions have eight games left to flip the script from the past two weeks, starting with a doubleheader on Friday at Missouri Western.

MSSU and the Griffons split those games with the Lions taking Game 2 by a score of 7-1 after a five-run seventh inning allowed them to pull away. MWSU took Game 1 7-5.

The Lions were tied for fourth in the MIAA standings coming in with their 9-9 record and Missouri Western State University is the team tied with them. So this doubleheader was key for both teams. Both teams remain tied at 10-10.

That fourth spot is lower than the finish in second from a year ago. MSSU was behind just Central Oklahoma at the end of the conference schedule last season. There's a chance they're being overlooked with teams like the University of Central Oklahoma (18-1), PSU (16-2), Rogers State University (19-3) and Washburn University (17-7) ahead of them.

"Our mindset is to go on a run. We're going to go on a run. I hope people are looking past us," Blackney said.

In order to do so, the Lions must get back to playing their best softball. Early in the year, the Lions were 15-4 and riding a five-game winning streak. Right before starting this six-game skid, they were 29-10 and riding a six-game win streak. What did the team look like during that success?

"This is the most talented team I've coached since I've been here. They're at their best when they're an energetic bunch that supports each other," Blackney said. "I keep telling them we haven't peaked yet. We want to be the team that peaks in May. In order to do that, we have to keep striving and trying to maximize our potential."

Vargas added that this team "can be great" as she relayed the same thing as coach saying the team hasn't reached its full potential just yet.

If the Lions want to look like that team that finished second in the MIAA standings last year with a 21-5 MIAA record, it may be time for the seniors to bring as much leadership as possible down the stretch.

The veteran leadership would include Young, Vargas and fellow senior Kara Amos.

"That's what it's supposed to be. They're supposed to understand the culture and how we do things and carry that on," Blackney said. "The seniors from last year left this team in a good spot. You must have a player-led team to win at a high level in this conference."