In the interest of full disclosure, I had intended (along with Bill C.) to put together some sort of Softball preview before the season got going. But, you know how it is. Basketball decided to have one of their best seasons in history and all of a sudden it was February and the season was underway. But as our Tigers head out for their first conference test of the season (24-0 over kU over three days obviously did not count), I thought maybe it was time to get people up to speed. Consider this a peace offering to those that missed it.
Mizzou, having completed a stretch of 11 home games in their last 12, takes to the road for the first time in their conference goodbye tour against a team they really are not saying goodbye to: the Texas A&M Aggies. In the past, these posts have focused solely on our opponent, but I am going to split it up a bit here to update people on how the Mizzou season has gone to this point as well. You can thank me later. So, let's start with the Tigers before moving over to the Aggies
Overall, the Tigers are currently sitting at 22-3 after completing a mid-week sweep of the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Tigers have won 17 in a row since last dropping a game (7-1 to Northwestern on 2/26). They have won via run-rule in 12 games this year and are 0-1 in extra inning games. Their losses have come against Eastern Kentucky (6-5 in 10 innings), the aforementioned loss to Northwestern and 6-4 to Nebraska. None of those teams are currently receiving votes per this poll. The Tigers do hold solid wins over #3 Washington (their only loss of the season, as they were no-hit by Chelsea Thomas) and #16 UCLA. For the most part, the Tigers have not really played the toughest competition to date, but have six series worth of games (18) coming up against currently-ranked opponents. The Tigers are a perfect 11-0 at home and 3-0 on the road, with their only losses coming at neutral site games, where they have gone 8-3.
Thus far, the Tigers are batting .320 with an OBP of .421 and a slugging percentage of .503. They have 165 runs in 25 games with 22 HR's. There seems to be some power throughout the lineup -- Ashley Fleming leads the team in HR's, but there are seven players with 2 HR's or more. Fleming also leads the team in batting average (.405) and RBI's with Jenna Marston leading in runs. On the base paths, the team is 43-for-48 in SB's, but the distribution is pretty amazing. No one player has more than 5 SB's, and every position player who has played this year except for Rachel Hay (who is a catcher by trade) has at least 2 SB's. The team has drawn 99 BB's on the year, while only striking out 85 times. The Tigers have left an average of 6.4 runners on base per game.
The team has appeared to settle down in the field from some early-season issues and is now sporting a decent fielding percentage of .973. They have committed 18 errors on the season, leading to 11 unearned runs. Those 11 unearned actually make up just over ONE-THIRD of all runs given up by the Tigers, and certainly have bitten Mizzou hard in their losses. Freshmen account for 13 of the 18 errors. The Tigers have given up 11 SB's in 12 chances.
What can you say? Dominating. The team has a combined ERA on the year of just 0.95, dropping below 1,00 after the twin shutouts of Iowa, and they have given up 21 earned runs in 154 innings. Thomas has over 45 straight innings of shutout ball, which has her ERA down to 0.54 (11-1 record on the season) and her opponent's batting average down to .116. She has given up just 24 hits and 16 BB's on the year while K'ing 89 in her 64.1 innings. Frosh Bailey Irwin is actually next in line with ERA at 1.05 while Kristen Nottelmann brings up the rear (if you can even call it that) at 1.37. The trio has held opponents to a batting average of .175 and struck out 174 batters while walking 42 and surrendering 95 hits. That is an average of less than one runner reaching base per inning....tough to score that way. I would expect to see Thomas on both Friday and Sunday (now that the Big XII-II-II+II) has only IX member institutions with teams and now plays III-game conference series) with Nottelmann on Saturday and Irwin getting some work if needed or wanted.
Alright, let's go ahead and move it over to aTm and take a look at how they have come to be 20-8 and currently ranked 19th in the nation. They are 11-1 at home and 2-0 on the road, but only 7-7 on the neutral site games. They started their season in Tempe, AZ (though they did not play the defending national champs ASU), going 3-2. They lost their first game of the season to (unranked) BYU before ripping off high-level wins against now #9 Stanford and #14 Arizona before falling to Northwestern 6-3 in 8 innings. After sweeping through the Aggie Classic at home they headed out west and really struggled, going 1-4. They fell to #4 Florida, got DRUBBED (15-3) by New Mexico (just out of top 25), lost 8-2 to #3 Washington and 2-0 to unranked Pacific. Since then, they have mostly righted the ship, falling only 3-2 to unranked Houston and 3-0 to #2 Cal. Needless to say, the Aggies have played a TOUGH schedule.
Thus far, the Aggiesare batting .291 with an OBP of .400 and a slugging of .429. They have 128 runs in 28 games with 25 HR's. The team is led by Soph. Emily Albus who checks in at a whopping .478 batting average, though she has only accounted for 4 RBI's, 3 BB's and not a single extra base hit. Junior Mel Dumezich is the big bopper for the Ags, hitting just over .300 with 8 HR's and 29 RBI's. Other power will come from Juniors Sydney Shannon and Megan May, who have combined for an additional 9 HR's. The team is 20-25 on the base paths. The Ags have drawn an impressive 123 BB's, with May accounting for 30 of them herself, but perhaps more impressively, they have struck out 137 times on the year. The Ags leave over 7.6 runners on base per game, a pretty stout number which may speak to a lack of clutch hitting.
Texas A&M comes into the game with 25 errors on the season and a fielding percentage of .969. Light-hitting Soph. Amber Garza (and I do mean light-hitting, checking in below the Mendoza Line at .196) leads the squad with 5 errors, which in total have led to 15 unearned runs (out of 92 total). The Aggies have given up 18 SB's in 24 chances.
For aTm, it would appear to be Dumezich or bust. However, as this is the first weekend series for the Aggies this year, it will be interesting to see how they break up the responsibilities. Dumezich leads the team (and conference, I believe) in innings pitched with 118.1, and assuming her 12-5 record holds most of the games against the top-flight talent aTm has faced, her 2.19 ERA is not bad. She has 144 K's with 83 hits and 55 BB's, so she is giving up over a runner per inning. Teams are batting .197 against her (.212 against the Ags as a whole). I imagine the Tigers will also see some of Senior Lindsey Sisk who has started 11 games for aTm and sits at 5-3 with a 2.79 ERA over 57.2 innings.
Needless to say, the Aggies have faced a VERY tough road so far, and while they do have a few very solid wins, it has beat them up a bit in the W-L when you also consider some of the losses against unranked opponents which have similarly plagued Mizzou. This team has some danger in it as we have reviewed (not even mentioning Senior Natalie Villareal, who is off her last season's batting average by about 40 points currently), but Mizzou has shown that if they are not giving up unearned runs (8 errors and 7 unearned runs in 3 losses this year), it will be a real struggle to beat them. Mizzou has done well against the Ags of late, taking 5 of the last 6, including a 2-game home sweep last year against the then-ranked #20 Ags by a combined score of 9-3. And nevermind the Tigers SHOULD be coming into this game with something prove after being called out by their head coach following their mid-week sweep for not bringing enough intensity and enthusiasm. Will that be a recipe for another conference sweep and a 6-0 start to the final Big Whatever campaign?