By Zach James
Assistant Sports Editor
---- — MORRISON, Ill. – College is usually one of the last things on the minds of high school freshmen. Instead, 14-year-old boys and girls are usually worried about fitting in to a new high school setting.
Morrison freshman Lauren Rice doesn’t have to worry about that – she’s already found a new place to fit in once she’s done being a Fillie.
Rice is only 14 years old and loves to play softball. She has not officially thrown a pitch yet for the Morrison Fillies. Despite that, she has already verbally committed to play for the SEC’s Missouri Tigers following graduation in 2017.
Rice has been pitching since she was seven, and loves the competitiveness each time she steps inside the circle. Her ASA and travel softball career started here in Clinton playing for the Comettes.
That’s why she chose to go play for Mizzou and vie for a chance to compete in the College World Series in Oklahoma City.
The relationship between Rice and Missouri first started earlier this summer when Rice played for the Beverly Bandits, a nationally-known U-14 team out of Chicago that continually produces Division I prospects.
Rice and Missouri head coach Ehren Earlywine have had phone conversations the last couple of months which led to Rice and her family being invited down on Dec. 14 to visit the campus and participate in a prospect camp.
Once she arrived in Columbia, Mo., and got a chance to take a look around campus, the coaches got a chance to see Rice throw. And the result is something no one expected.
Rice’s first pitch was clocked at 70 miles per hour. Doing warm-ups. That’s near triple digits on a speed gun from a regulation baseball mound. Now remember: she’s only 14.
“I was even blown away when I found out that I was throwing 70,” said Rice. “I’ve been throwing around the mid-to-upper 60s but not 70, and to do it in front of them was awesome.”
Once that happened, according to Lauren’s dad, Larry, a Morrison police officer, the Mizzou coaches got together with the family in a huddle, and offered Lauren the full-ride scholarship, which she took then and there.
“I had the feeling Mizzou was the right fit all along,” Lauren said. “I love the family-style atmosphere, I love the coaches and the campus was beautiful.
“I also want to be a part of a national contender. The SEC is a very competitive conference, and Mizzou has a history of making it to the College World Series.”
The experience hasn’t nearly sunk in for Larry, either.
“It’s surreal to think that this is starting to sink in,” he said. “She knows exactly what she wants, though, and she loved Mizzou from the start.
“We wanted her to make this decision and not wait. We were scared that she might lose this opportunity if we had waited.”
Lauren also doesn’t care about those who say she’s experiencing this all too early.
“It doesn’t bother me what others may say,” she said. “I’m happy with what’s happened.”
Two of Lauren’s inspirations also play for the Tigers and hail from Morrison. Michaele and Abby Vock played in the 2009 Women’s College World Series, and the Rice family traveled down to support their hometown heroes and to gain what kind of experience Oklahoma City is like.
“It was everything I had hoped it would be, it was amazing,” Lauren said.
Dad liked the experience, too.
“We learned a lot from that trip,” he said. “We spoke to their dad, Phil, to get an idea of what to expect. He said to just hold on because it would all go so fast. It sure has.”
Moving forward, Rice is excited to play for the Fillies and win the school’s first state title since 2011 while having fun along the way.
“I think about winning constantly because I hate to lose,” Lauren said. “But I can do it without the pressure now. I know where I’m going, and now, I can just play.”