As the calendar nears the middle of February, the eyes and hearts of Mizzou fans on RMN turns to one thing and one thing only....softball. The Fightin’ Stubbles head west on Friday, February 15th to start their season in Santa Barbara, CA at the UCSB Tournament against the host school, Fresno State and San Diego. Their first ranked test will come the following week, again out in CA, against new conference foe Florida, who enters the year ranked #15. It is our hope here at Rock M that if you have not been with us for a softball season that you take some time to embrace the game and the production of our Tigers. And then, remember to start saving up for the 3rd Annual Tremendous Stubble Drive, coming this spring.
In the meantime, CPC and I are going to piece together our quasi-informed opinions (though mine much more quasi than his) about the season to come. CPC was able to attend most of the fall games and should have a good sense of what the Tigers may have in store for their new conference. I will do my best to pick his brain and lend my thoughts, we will go back and forth and somewhere in all of this, you might gain some knowledge about the 2013 season.
First up: the pitching.
Perhaps we are prone to believing we are starting intentionally with a “softball” of sorts. But, even with one of the best pitchers in the country and one of the two best pitchers in MU history, this one may prove trickier than you might think. Why is that? Depth.
The Beef: So CPC, you want to wax poetic on all things Chelsea Thomas first, or do you want to talk about how important everyone not named Chelsea Thomas is going to be in the circle?
CPC: It would be almost silly to come up with a superlative that has not been used to describe Chelsea over the last 3+ years she been at Missouri. Almost. Perhaps “disrespected” will describe her going into this season. After all the Big 12 and national accolades that she’s collected in her career, she was snubbed for a spot on the All-SEC preseason team, while making the watch list for national Player of the Year. I think this secretly pleases Ehren Earlywhine as his mantra going into this season is to play pissed off after last year’s early exit. An early exit which was part bats going quiet and part Chelsea getting tired. Whenever she’s been healthy, she’s been Missouri’s main horse in the pitching stable. That changes this year.
Ehren said at the beginning of practices that he’s going to limit Chelsea to try and keep from tiring her arm out before the games that really matter. That’s going to require leaning on Bailey Erwin, who is coming back from off-season surgery and (if you want to see how deep the pitching staff is) Kelsea Roth who pitched a ton of innings this fall. Nicole Hudson also went in the circle this fall, though with the run rule, I wouldn’t expect her to move from 3rd base. But, she’s worth mentioning as she’s pitched for us in the past and this fall.
The Beef: I will perhaps disagree with the inference of a snub on the pre-season All-SEC team for Chelsea. I’d have a real hard time putting her in over Traina from Alabama (cannot WAIT for those games) and Fico’s numbers were very comparable except for wins and losses because LSU did not decide to hit until the NCAA’s. But I certainly agree with the notion of DISRESPECT (because that meme needs to keep going) being used by Coach E.
But can you name the pitcher with the lowest ERA on the team last year? That would be Bailey Erwin, who finished the year at 8-0 with a 1.12 ERA over 74+ innings. She was certainly not the strikeout pitcher Chelsea is, but her control was damn near pinpoint. She walked only 9, did not deliver a wild pitch and only hit 2 batters. She pitched to contact, which is not a terrible thing considering the defense MU put up last year. With SEC series as three games (instead of two against B12 teams), I have to believe that Coach E is going to lean on Bailey for more than the two conference starts she had last year. If anything I could see Nicole Hudson as a third starter. She is reported to be working some in the circle after being a high school career that did see her be named a four-time all-state’r at pitcher. After all, she can still pitch and hit (see: Ricketts of OU). I would actually guess she sees time before Roth, who was not as experienced a pitcher in high school, but we may certainly see the answer inside the first weekend or two about how the conference weekends may go.
CPC: (Note: I detest the Ricketts’. I’m really tired of them. This will be the 8th year of a Ricketts pitcher at OU and I’m glad I don’t have to see her again until the post season. But, man, that girl can pitch and has already racked up 2 no hitters in the opening weekend.)
The Beef: Not a bad hitter either :-)
CPC: No, not at all...that’s a rare luxury, I would think...to be able to use your DP to replace a weaker hitter instead of going with the standard replace-your-pitcher strategy. Lucky for OU.
The Beef: Helped at Alabama as well with Traina...worked out pretty well for them.
CPC: So are you saying Mr. Stubble should have spent some time with Chelsea in the cages? :D
The Beef: Chelsea is so good she could break her own bat...
CPC: One thing about statistics...they tell you the true story, not necessarily the one you remember. I have no idea why I remember Roth pitching so much this fall, but after I added the numbers up, she pitched 10.1 innings to Hudson’s 21.