Know your Softball Regional Opponent - Illinois State

Nicole Hudson and the Tigers have already retired the Redbirds three different times. Can they make it a fourth on Friday evening? (Photo via MUtigers.com)

In what is becoming an annual tradition (both in Columbia and on RMN), it is time to preview the Columbia Regional, which will start up at 4:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon.  It is a standard, four-team, round-robin double elimination format, so the #1 seeded Tigers will take on the #4 seeded Redbirds of Illinois State while the #2 seeded Indiana Hoosiers will take on the #3 seeded DePaul Blue Demons.  

Today, we will take a look at the only team which MIzzou is guaranteed to play, Illinois State.  The preview format is nothing special, but hopefully it will provide us with a look at any common opponents, strengths and weaknesses.  But first, a quick thought on the bracket as a whole.

While the NCAA clearly stays as close to the RPI (linked here) when handing out the top 16 seeds, and even through the next 16 seeds (to determine the #2 seeds in each regional), after that, it was more about regionality (and making up words) than anything.  What that means for the Tigers is actually a VERY tough (based on RPI) regional, perhaps the toughest in the field (at a very cursory glance).

The updated RPI standings have MU at #5, Indiana at 28 (very appropriate considering MU's #5 seed), and then Depaul at 32 and Illinois State at 40.  While you still have to acknowledge auto-qualifiers from weaker conferences and the like, that is still a very tough lineup. Anyway, with that out of the way, let's get to it!

Season:

Overall, the Redbirds finished the season at 35-17 with a 21-5 record in the Valley Conference.  They went 12-2 at home, 10-9 on the road and 13-6 at neutral site games.  (fallen from 36th last week before their tourney loss to SMS).  They run-ruled 10 opponents, were run-ruled themselves three times and went 1-1 in extra inning games.

Common Opponents:

Well, let's start with one another, as the Tigers and Redbirds have squared off three times already this season.  How did they turn out?  Not so good if you are fan of ISU:

  • Game 1 (8-2 Mizzou win)
  • Game 2 (9-0 Mizzou win in 5 innings)
  • Game 3 (10-0 Mizzou win in 5 innings)

That works out to 27-2 over 17 innings, only one of which was pitched by Chelsea Thomas.

As for the rest of their common opponents (and there were quite a few):

  • Alabama (ISU lost 7-0, Mizzou lost 3-1)
  • South Florida (ISU lost 3-2, Mizzou won 4-1)
  • Temple (ISU won 6-1 and 12-4 in 5 innings, Mizzou won 8-7)
  • Illinois (ISU won 10-7 and 10-6, Mizzou won 4-3 and 8-0 in 6 innings)
  • Southern Illinois (ISU won 6-0, 5-4 and lost 7-4, Mizzou won 3-0)
  • SMS (ISU won 5-2, 8-0 in 6 innings, 7-2 and lost 4-2, Mizzou won 11-0 in 6 innings)
  • Evansville (ISU won 8-0 in 5 innings, 14-3 in 5 innings and 4-2, Mizzou won 7-2 and 9-1 in 5 innings)
  • UNI (ISU won 7-4 and 3-2, and lost 1-0, Mizzou won 7-2)
  • Drake (ISU won 5-1 and 5-2 and lost 4-3, Mizzou won 5-0 and 8-1)

Non-Conference:

I show ISU going 14-11 in non-conference action, with some decent games in there.  ISU had no shortage of games against top opponents, going 0-6 against Alabama, Georgia (2-1 loss), Arizona State and Mizzou  The best wins I see would be against #31 Maryland (5-0 and 9-7) and against #41 Illinois (see above).  Their worst non-con loss would be a 3-0 defeat (in 8 innings) against #65 UVA.  Their "worst" win would come against #268 Seattle (a 16-0 win)

MVC Action:

The 21-5 record in the Valley was good enough to be the regular season champs, but the Redbirds stumbled straight out of the gates against #5 seed (and eventual champ) SMS in the conference tournament.  During the season, four of their five conference losses were by a lone run, and they lost the five total games by seven runs.  In the end, they finished two games ahead of #2 seed Drake to claim the title.

Offense:

Overall, the team hit .299 for the season (MU .306) with 67 HR's (MU 58) and and a team slugging percentage of .519 (MU .497).  The team was led by MVC MVP senior 2B Kara Nelson,who led the team with a .407 batting average.  She also led the team in runs (40), hits (74), doubles (T-10), total bases (105) and OBP (.455).  ISU also had a couple of big boppers at the plate in the form of senior infielder Abby Olson, who led the team in HR (T-14) and slugging (.676), along with sophomore catcher Elizabeth Kay, who was also tied at 14 in homeruns while leading the team in RBI's with 43.  Not too much team speed for the Redbirds, as they managed only 27 steals (MU 86)

Defense:

ISU posted a very solid .971 fielding percentage (MU .972).  Light-hitting RS Frosh infielder Sara Bradley led the team with 12 errors (of 44 total)

Pitching:

ISU had two pitchers who split the workload pretty evenly.  Junior Jordan Birch led the team in wins (17-6), games (29), starts (25), shutouts (4), innings (148) and K's (163).  She had a decent 2.89 ERA.  The other pitcher for the Redbirds was fellow junior Megan Warner, who went 14-6 and led the team in complete games (15), along with their lone two saves.  Neither pitcher walked a ton of batters (118 total in 335+ innings).  Warner was FAR more touched for the long ball however, giving up 22 HR's to only 8 for Birch.  The two combined to have a .230 batting average against.

Overall Thoughts:

The preconceived notion of ISU is that this is a game in which the Tigers should romp.  And while I think that is still the case, I was more than a little surprised to see how very decent this ISU team was.  Solid hitting, good fielding and pitching that really is not too bad.  This is an experienced team, having made the tournament last year as well (though not winning a game in the Ann Arbor Regional).  Obviously, Mizzou knows this team pretty well and we should still expect a win with hopefully Kristen Nottelmann getting time in the circle (both because she deserves it and because it would protect the arm of Thomas for the last two wins of the weekend).  In the end, I don't think ISU is a viable player for the weekend, but I could certainly see where they might squeeze out a win in the losers' bracket game before eventually falling Saturday afternoon.

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