COLUMBIA — Missouri seniors Madi Norman and Kolby Romaine were the heroes to open the team's final regular-season series, a 4-3 win Friday night against No. 16 South Carolina at Mizzou Softball Stadium.
Norman tossed a complete game and matched a season-high with 10 strikeouts, and gave up just four hits, three of which were solo home runs and none of which came after the third inning. Romine delivered both the tying and the winning RBI, winning the game with a single to the gap in right-center to score Kim Wert from first.
"That's what it's all about this time of year, it's playing for the seniors, and giving them an opportunity to have one more game," Missouri coach Larissa Anderson said. "That's what we talked about, honoring the seniors in their last home weekend, and then as you continue through the playoffs, it's just like, 'Let's get them one more game, let's keep playing for our seniors,' and it's great to have to performances out of them."
Norman (16-8) allowed three home runs in a game this season on one other occasion — March 10 at Alabama. She's grown from that moment in particular, and rather than shut down after Alyssa Kumiyama drove a pitch over the berm in left field to give the Gamecocks a 3-0 lead, Norman activated, went through her mental adjustments, and allowed her offense to back her up.
"I was kind of playing the corners, because I knew South Carolina was a home run-hitting team, instead of attacking them," Norman said. "Coach just told me to go right at them, that they are going to want to hit the long ball, and that's what they're looking for, so I was just trying not to play into their hands after that point."
The Tigers, now 31-21 and 11-11 SEC, are approaching the total number of conference wins combined in the previous season, and can equal it with a sweep of the Gamecocks. The win also moved Missouri into sole possession of seventh place in the conference standings after Auburn lost to Arkansas.
"The fact that we have that many (conference) wins is impressive," Wert said. "I mean, we're so good. We're so good."
Wert hit 2-for-3 with an RBI and three runs scored, and Kara Decker and Romaine both hit 2-for-4. Wert singled in Regan Nash in the third inning, and Decker plated Jazmyn Rollin to cut the deficit to one. Romaine tied the game in the fifth with her first career triple after Wert doubled and Hatti Moore was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first.
Wert scored from first in the bottom of the seventh after a leadoff walk, as Romaine drove a pitch to the wall in right-center, and Anderson said she had a flashback to the fifth inning but did not hesitate to wave Wert home.
"Once I hit it, I saw it go in the gap and and kind of stopped and just started watching (Wert)," Romaine said. "Like, 'run faster, go, go.' Like, I should probably be going to second, but at this point, who cares."
Romaine was mobbed at first base by her teammates, and said the walk-off was comparable to one she had in 2017 against No. 9 Alabama in the bottom of the ninth to secure a series win.
The Tigers are a lock to make both the SEC Tournament, which runs May 8-11 in College Station, Texas, and the NCAA Tournament, which holds its selection show Sunday, May 12.
A year ago, Missouri advanced to the championship series against No. 4 Oklahoma, but fell short of its first Super Regional since 2016. That goal may again be out of reach this season, but if there's one thing Anderson's team has shown in the first year, it's that they never stop fighting.