In what is becoming an annual tradition (both in Columbia and on RMN), it is time to preview the Columbia Super Regional, which will start up at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday night. It is a standard, best two-out-of-three format, as the #5 seeded Tigers will take on the #12 seeded Washington Huskies for the right to move on to Oklahoma City in the Women's College World Series.
And remember, don't forget to lay down your pledge for the RMN Charity Drive!!
Washington had the distinction of being the first team to move into the Super Regional round, thanks to a Thur-Fri-Sat (BYU-altered) sweep through their own regional. Washington is only two years removed from having won the national title, and was back in the WCWS last season (suffering the same fate as the Tigers in going 0-2 on their way out). How did 2011 play out for the Huskies? Let's take a look.
Overall, UW finished the season at 34-14 (plus 3-0 last weekend) with a 9-12 record in the Pac-10 Conference, which was good enough for a tie of seventh (of eight) with UCLA. They went 10-5 at home, 12-7 on the road, and 15-2 at neutral site games. Their RPI is 13th per the NCAA site (linked here). They run-ruled an impressive 14 opponents, were run-ruled themselves four times, and went 4-1 in extra inning games.
Mizzou and UW, for the distance apart from one another, actually do share a decent amount of common opponents (and were actually supposed to play one another in the ill-fated San Diego Classic):
- San Diego State (UW won 6-3, Mizzou won 9-1 in 5 innings)
- Fresno State (UW won 10-0 in 6 innings, Mizzou lost 6-3)
- Cal (UW won 2-1 in 8 innings, 9-1 in 6 innings, and lost 10-0 in 5 innings, Mizzou lost 1-0)
- Texas A&M (UW won 7-4, Mizzou won 6-3 and 3-0)
- Illinois (UW won 3-2, Mizzou won 4-3 and 8-0 in 6 innings)
- Oklahoma (UW lost 7-6 in 8 innings, MU won 3-2 in 9 innings and 1-0 in 11 innings
- Texas (UW lost 10-0 in 5 innings, Mizzou won 6-3 and lost 2-0)
If you are UW, then you aim to play a big-time schedule every year, and this season was certainly no exception. Beyond the ridiculousness of the Pac-10 (more on that in a few paragraphs), UW went 25-2 in the non-con schedule (which is completed entirely before moving to the Pac-10 conference schedule). Their two losses were against Big XII teams in #3 (RPI) Texas and #9 Oklahoma as outlined above. However, they have impressive wins over #14 Texas A&M, #17 Notre Dame (7-4), #36 Fresno St. and #37 Fordham (2-0). Their "worst" win would come against #268 Seattle by the somewhat ridiculous score of 16-2 (in 5 innings).
Consider it a new paragraph to the template, but a necessary one in this case. I referenced ridiculous above in their score against Seattle, but that was merely the tip of the non-con iceberg. In 27 games, the UW Huskies scored an average of 9.74 runs per game on their way to that 25-2 record (and that was even with them getting shut out against Texas). They had 12 occasions where they scored more than 10 runs in a game. They had five games where they scored 16 or more runs, and eclipsed 20 runs in two games. However, they still did give up almost 3.5 runs per game in that 27-game stretch, which included their run-rule loss to UT, as well as a wild, 17-13 affair against UNLV.
Yes, the Pac-10 is probably the toughest conference in the country, featuring seven of the top-20 teams in the RPI poll (only eight teams in the Pac-10 from a softball standpoint). That being said, UW certainly did not light the world on fire on the months of April and May on their way to their 9-12 record. They were swept by #1 Arizona State at home, and only took one of three against #8 Arizona, #19 Stanford and #20 UCLA (though all three series were on the road. They took two of three against #7 Cal and #15 Oregon at home, and finished the regular season taking two of three at #78 Oregon State. USC and Washington State do not participate in softball (nor does Colorado, so the addition of Utah will take them to nine total teams eventually).
As we broke down the numbers for the first 27 games, so too shall we break down the numbers in the final 21. In conference (and UW did play a road-heavy schedule for what it is worth), the Huskies averaged scoring not quite three runs per game (2.95), while giving up exactly four runs per game. Certainly the strength of schedule picked up, and no longer did UW have the likes of Seattle, Cal-State Bakersfield (#259) and Cal-State Riverside (#216) to beat up upon, but the fall off was pretty stark.
Unfortunately, the stats provided for UW through their website (which actually directs you to the Pac-10 website) are ... well ... incomplete. Take a look for yourself here. Needless to say, my take on offense will not be as quite complete as other previews, but I think there is enough here to get some decent conclusions.
Overall, the team hit .325 for the season (MU .308), but did see that average fall to just .246 in conference (third from the bottom). UW did hit 61 HR's (MU 65) and and a team slugging percentage of .514 (MU .499). At the plate the Huskies feature as tough a top-three batters as MU has likely seen this year. They start with junior CF Kimi Pohlman, who led the team in batting average (.435), hits (77), runs (56) and steals (25). Their second hitter is senior SS Jenn Salling, who provided UW with a .373 average (2nd on the team) and a team-leading OBP of .505 with 16 doubles. In the third slot is junior 1B Niki Williams who led UW in the power categories of HR's (14), RBI's (56), total bases (110), slugging (.748) and tied Salling with a .505 OBP while also drawing a team-leading 40 BB's.
After those three, the stats start to get a little incomplete. It would appear freshman pitcher Kaitlyn Inglesby hits cleanup, and I am thinking she hit pretty well over .300 on the season, adding 11 HR's and 38 RBI's. She was the best hitter for the Huskies in conference, hitting .387. Junior infielder Taylor Smith does not appear to be an everyday starter at this point, but was third on the team with 10 HR's (including three in one game early in the season). The three other starters for whom we have a complete stat line would be freshman OF Victoria Hayward, who did hit .296 and played in 49 of 51 games on the season, but only managed 9 RBI's. Senior 3B Morgan Stuard started all 51 games while hitting .270 with 7 HR's and a team-leading 15 HBP's. Sophomore catcher Shawna Wright was behind the plate all season, hitting only .218, but committing only four errors on the year.
UW showed decent speed on the base paths, as they managed 61 steals on 73 attempts (MU 103)
UW was not terribly strong in the field, committing 51 errors (MU 42) on their way to a .964 fielding percentage (MU .974). The weakest link would be Stuard at 3B with 11 errors, while Williams committed a pretty disturbing eight at first and Salling a very solid seven at shortstop.
If you thought the offense portion of this had some gaps, you ain't seen nothing yet
All I can tell you is UW had one pitcher who pitched in a fair amount of their games. The frosh (Inglesby) had solid, but not mind-blowing numbers (and certainly not close to the numbers of the pitcher she replaced in all-Everything Danielle Lawrie). Inglesby went 22-8 (with 3 saves and 3 additional wins this past weekend) on the season with an ERA of 2.26. She appeared in 41 (of 51) games, starting 25 of them and completing 19 of those. She gave up 176 hits in 204+ innings, with 158 K's and 64 BB's, and opposing teams hit .229 against her. She went 7-6 against Pac-10 play with a 2.66 ERA with 105 hits in 105.1 innings, so obviously her stats are not nearly as imposing as others have been. She did work all three games last weekend for wins, but most three-game series she split during the conference season was with fellow freshman Bryana Walker. I've got no ERA on Walker, but she went 3-5 on the season, including 1-4 in conference play. I dont have innings pitched either, but she did start 10 games on the season, which was second-most on the squad.
For the season, Washington had a team ERA of 3.42 with 351 hits in 327+ innings. They walked 127 (MU 86) and struck out 226 (MU 484).
By my count, Washington played 22 games (out of 48 in the regular season) against teams which finished inside the top-20 of the RPI. They went 9-13 in those games. They were a fairly distant tied for 7th(with UCLA) in their conference. Even their three games last weekend came against #133 Portland State (6-2) and two against #39 BYU (4-1 and 7-5). What I am struggling to get over is what sort of value to place upon the Pac-10 as a whole and what it means for UW to still be the #13 RPI team in the nation.
Make no mistake, there is some decent experience on this squad, as Pohlman, Salling, Stuard and Williams were all starters on the 2009 National Championship team, and you can add Wright and Smith to the team who played in the WCWS last year. But the most important position in softball (and both MU and UW fans can attest) is the pitcher. The year UW won the national title, Danielle Lawrie went 42-9. The team itself only went 51-12. And certainly no amount of preaching is necessary to the choir of Mizzou fans who have been so fortunate to understand what good pitching (from both Chelsea Thomas and Kristen Nottelmann) can mean to a program. And that is where I struggle for UW as they prepare for this weekend. Inglesby has defeated some of the best (a 3-0 win over #8 Arizona is probably her best "big" game this year), but I just dont see her ability to do it consistently, and especially against a MU team which found another gear offensively this past weekend (hello and welcome back, Rhea Taylor). And after her, should this series get pushed to three games or something else happens which necessitates UW going to the pen...oy. It's just not there on paper.
The top of the UW order is pretty fierce, but their lack of hitting throughout, some sketchy fielding and the pitching situation will overcome their experience and seasoning and makes me confident MU will be able to return to OKC for the third straight year.