Softball Non-Conference Season is (just about) over...so where do we stand?

Since returning from the somewhat ill-fated and ill-weathered road trip to California, the softball team has ripped off 21 wins in their last 22 games, with their lone defeat coming at the hands of then-#3, now-#1, Alabama.  Mizzou has won 19 straight, though none against any team even receiving a vote in the latest top 25 poll (found here)  So where does that leave our Tigers now that they set their eyes on a Big XII regular season championship as they open play today on the road for two against kU?  Let's take a look at some numbers through the (bulk of the) non-conference season and see where the team is.  First, let's take a look at those who are producing better than we thought they might to start the season.

For a refresher, here is what we thought about some of the players coming into the season

Ashley Fleming

The junior, who hit a stout .363 last year, is the offensive leader of this team right now, with the team lead in just about every single category.  Hitting .439, she has even been a perfect ten for ten on the base paths.  Her .833 slugging has picked up right where she left off last season, and she is making a big time run for 1st-team all-conference

Chelsea Thomas

Can she really be over-producing when the expectations were so high?  I really do think so.  She has pitched 66.1 innings and given up just 26 hits, along with only FOUR earned runs.  She has more walks (11, including 4 in her last outing).  She has K'ed a whopping 112 on the year, and is on pace to really climb the MU record books.  Her 0.42 ERA is laughably low, as her opponents' batting average of .117.   And let's not forget about the consecutive inning scoreless streak which was just broken.

Kristen Nottelmann

Just about a month ago, I said she was good enough to be the #1 pitcher on most teams, and all she has done is back that up so far this season.  And as is almost always the case, her stats get glossed over for the glitz and shine of Thomas.  Nottelmann is undefeated this season at 10-0, with an ERA of 0.97.  She has pitched 58 innings, giving up only 28 hits and eight earned runs, while walking only 13.  With 65 K's, she has picked up her ratio just a bit, and her opponents are batting a measly .142 against her.  She has also gone the distance 7 times in 10 starts, which I believe is a good sign as well.

Maddison Ruggeberg

The true frosh was touted as one of the ten Tigers to keep an eye on this season, and she has not disappointed.  In 20 games (with 17 starts), she is third on the team in batting average at .364, while showing some decent pop with 3 HR's and second-best .614 slugging.  She was in and out of the lineup a bit, but is starting to earn time at third base.  She is also starting to see time as the clean-up hitter in the lineup, though more on that later in the article.

Abby Vock

The senior infielder deserves some mention because she has earned 17 starts this season not just with her steady glove, but also because she is now hitting .317 on the season.  The hot start brings her lifetime average up to just over .220, so clearly the senior picked up some things in the off-season.

So we have covered the over-achievers...now let's talk about the folks who, in the name of all things Dennis Green, ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE!

Jenna Marston

Last season, Jenna Marston batted .366.  So far in 2011, she is batting .361.  Now Marston did tear into conference pitching to the tune of .467, which means big things could be on the horizon for her.  But in the end, she is performing at the same overall level which she was last season, which is pretty high already.  Marston has improved her glove at shortstop, committing only 4 errors in 25 games (13 last season).  

Marla Schweisberger

We talked before the season of the 2nd-team All-American in 2009 regaining some of that form, and I believe she has done just that.  Her .357 batting average is fifth on the squad, and while it is a considerable jump from the .282 she hit last season, it is not quite the .390 she hit in 2009.  Nevertheless, Schweisberger's bat and terrific glove (THREE career errors) have earned some time in the lineup when others have not quite performed.

Catherine Lee

.246 batting average last season turns into a .250 batting average so far this year.  The pop is still there, as she had a couple of bombs against Illinois and Illinois State a couple of weekends ago.  Mizzou fans are still waiting and hoping Lee can get back to her pre-transfer hitting ways when she batted over .400 as a frosh, but it seems like it is not to be.  I believe we can still expect to see quite a bit of Lee this season, and she will certainly be right there with the team when it comes to HR's and slugging (currently third on the squad at .611)

And now...for a little tough love.

Rhea Taylor

Blasphemy?  Perhaps, but Taylor has been off her game a bit so far this year.  Her batting average currently is below .400 (sitting at .387, though her career average is .415) and her slugging is off almost 150 points from last season.  Her walk rate is up just a hair, and her K rate is down maybe the same, and she is 17-19 in stealing bases, so it is still tough to put her in this area.  But at the end of the day, going from .452 last year to .387 is going to get you in this part of the article.

Nicole Hudson

It might be tough to say the current co-leader in HR's (with 5, tied with Fleming) has been a bit of a disappointment, but I would nod to the 50 point drop in batting average which has me a bit worried.  Hudson, who batted .323 last season is currently sitting at .271and she is starting to see her spot in the order slip to the back half, and her spot on the hot corner give way to Ruggeberg.  And while we are piling on, she has been a little iffy on the mound as the potential #3 for MU, with an ERA of 2.74 (though some shoddy defense has lead her giving up 10 total runs, though only 6 earned).

Lindsey Muller/Princess Krebs/Lisa Simmons

While we did not talk about any of these three specifically in the pre-season piece, my hope was that one of them was really going to take the next step and surprise.  To date, Simmons and Krebs are hitting an identical .250, with Simmons even lower at .206.  Muller does have a couple of blasts, but right now none of them seem to be playing well enough to earn consistent time.

Starting tomorrow, the Tigers will play their next TEN on the road, with six of those coming in conference. kU starts it off with two later today, and the Hawks have some good wins this season.  Texas Tech will be the weekend series, and the Guns up Gang is sitting 35-1 and #19 in the country.  Aside from North Texas and Evansville, the Tigers will also take on the Baylor Bears before next weekend before finally returning home to Como for a big weekend series against #21 aTm.  So what sort of lineup should we expect to see?  Coming from the latest release, I am thinking here is our most likely lineup, based on what we have been using and where people have been playing at times.

CF - Rhea Taylor
SS - Jenna Marston
RF - Ashley Fleming
3B - Maddison Ruggeberg
DP - Marla Schweisberger
1B - Catherine Lee
LF - Nicole Hudson
C - Megan Christopher
2B - Abby Vock

At this point, the odd person out would be Lindsey Muller and Lisa Simmons, who have each seen starts this season.  LF and DP have seen the greatest number of people playing there, as all sorts of folks have been trying to nail down the starting job.  Let's see what the ladies have to offer kU as the second season starts today.

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