2013 Missouri Softball preview: The hitting and the defense

Mizzou Network (YouTube)

View part one, on pitching, here. Now let's get to the bats and gloves.

As coaches do more often than not, especially as it pertains to softball where the schedule allows you to try to rest some folks during occasional mid-week games, Coach E used a number of different starting lineups last season, often in search of a spark that never really materialized. MU loses only one mainstay from what ended up being the normal lineup, but what a mainstay Ashley Fleming was for the Tigers. .377 batting average with 16 HR’s, 51 RBI’s and the team leader in most offensive statistical categories when it came to swinging the bat.

Hitting

The Beef: So where and how do the Tigers replace Fleming and improve on last season’s output?

CPC: This is the category that will see the greatest improvement over last year. What was lost? Ashley Fleming is the only player that graduated that hit. And hitting was something she, uh, was good at. Fleming batted .377 with 16 HR last year and while you hate to see a player like her leave, it’s not the end of the world. Especially after seeing the hitting clinic that Emily Crane used the fall schedule for. In 8 games, Emily hit for .667 with 8 RBI (I don’t have the extra base hit numbers, so I don’t know how many of those were HR). Beyond that, Rachel Hay (.615), Nicole Hudson (.563) and Sarah Moore (.412) were the only other players to hit above .400. Small sample size, for sure as Crane was the only player with more than 20 at-bats.

The Beef: Pitching is likely to be tougher in the SEC than it was in the Big XII. Yes, we no longer see Canion at Baylor or Ricketts at OU, but the staffs in the SEC appeared to be deeper within the conference than they were in the Big XII. Hitting was the major and consistent thorn in the side of this team and its coach last season, and with the type of depth we are about to review, I just refuse to believe he is going to sit and wait for certain people to come around. So whether it is the kids like Crane and Moore, Gadbois and Rose who redshirted last year, or the seniors like Krebs and Muller, Coach E will not rest until he gets the team hitting better than the one which finished last year.

That said, they need to replace the consistent hitting AND the power of Fleming. Crane certainly displayed the ability to put the bat on the ball for average and some extra base hits. The Tigers will need the power from people like Hudson, Roth, and Muller to return and even improve from last year (seven HR’s each), but they will also need someone like Moore or Jones to step up and add some pop. We know the team will be aggressive on the base paths and will manufacture runs as they have in many of the previous seasons. They will just need to do a much better job of getting the key hit, especially when that hit may need to leave the yard.

CPC: I really wish I had some year-to-year statistics to compare things to. You’d have to assume a player is going to improve their hitting every year, culminating in their best year as a senior (not saying as a fact, just that it would make sense). If you work off that theory, then Hudson and Muller will have their best years and Roth will improve. Taking that a step further, you’re also adding in at least a “good” bat with Emily Crane. I know I quote them quite a bit, but take the fall stats with a grain of salt, as they were hitting against Juco/NAIA level pitching and not the epic pitchers of the SEC.

The Beef: Well, but that’s just it. I don’t think you are wrong to expect the gradual improvement, but not only did it not happen last year, but we saw some pretty serious regression. Hudson finished 2011 with a .343 batting average with 13 HRs. Marston batted .322. Both batted .254 in conference play last year and did not finish above .300 on the year. You have those two put up those numbers last year and the year is a little different. So if we can get those back from them as well as getting some of that improvement you expect, then I would believe our offense should be fine, better pitching from our opponents or not.

Infield

The Tigers were pretty stout last year in the field, with a .975 fielding percentage, which is impressive considering how relatively young the team was. Up the middle, you had two frosh in Corrin Genovese and Ashtin Stephens combine for just 12 errors, which was impressive enough to win Genovese various defensive awards and honors. The Tigers don’t actually have to replace anyone, as Fleming played the outfield.

The Beef: My question is, will Coach E choose to replace anyone?

CPC: Possibly. When you look at the infield, I think it’s fair to go ahead and put Lindsey Muller at 1B and Nicole Hudson at 3B. Both are seniors and both played there last year and spent a majority of their time playing there this fall. When you look up the middle, you’re left with some options:

You can play Genovese at SS, which is where she was successful last year, or you can put Emily Crane there and move Genovese to 2B. I don’t recall seeing Crane play 2B at all this fall, but I do remember Corrin moving over. It wouldn’t be the first time a stellar SS has been moved elsewhere to fill a hole (see also: JJ Marston, who you can pencil in at catcher). Alternative to all of that is putting Crane in the outfield, leaving Genovese at SS and playing either Stephens or Princess Krebs at 2B. Princess had a decent fall and as a senior, is due for a few starts to come her way.

The Beef: Certainly nice to have options. I think we will see a steady mix of Hudson, Muller and probably Kelsea Roth on the corners. What is interesting to me is that these three also represent pitching options #3-#5 for this team after Thomas and Erwin. But when you mix in the Designated Player position in the lineup, I think it is pretty possible we see all three in most games this spring. If I had to wager a guess as to who (of the three) sees the least amount of time on the field, I am thinking it is likely Muller. But no matter, I think we can all agree the corners are solid.

To the middle of the field, where the defense was really strong with Genovese at SS and Ashtin Stephens at 2B. The two kept the errors to a minimum, and with Jenna Marston having transitioned from SS to C, they made for a very solid middle of the field. However, and especially as it was a constant concern of Coach E, the offense just was not there. Genovese started out decently but fell off once the schedule toughened up. She also struggled this fall, only batting 1-9, but scoring a number of runs on pinch running chances. Stephens was remarkably consistent last season, batting .246 for the OOC and Conference year, all evidently with a torn labrum in her hip. I imagine that is why she was a no-show for the fall season, but she certainly has to be considered at 2B.

As you talked about, Krebs had a solid fall at 2B and is a senior, so that sort of on-field leadership could be helpful. But Emily Crane was nothing short of amazing this past fall. She went 17 for her first 21. I do not care who you are doing that against, that is impressive. But will she be in the outfield? We can talk more about that in the next section, but Crane at SS and Genovese/Krebs at 2B (with Stephens coming off the bench to run, as she even stole 7 bases last year with the bad wheel) is the way I might choose to go.

CPC: Let me throw this wrench into our statements: Emily Crane started at 2B for the black team on Saturday. Maybe we’re putting too much into this....it’s not baseball where a player is locked into their position for a majority of their career. Softball is different and there’s a little more flexibility in where players are positioned. Especially in the middle infield.

The Beef: While that is true, I think there is something to be said for consistency and gaining comfort with their position. I do not know of many coaches who purposefully move people around the field and/or lineup unless they are doing it for a specific reason. But if you can settle on a starting nine who know and execute their roles correctly the vast majority of the time, I believe that is what the coach would want.

It’s nice that we can talk about this....it means we’re deep (and flexible) in the infield. I think a little more so than in years past.

Outfield

As we led off the Infield section, we referenced that Ashley Fleming needed to be replaced in the outfield, as she spent most of the year positioned in right field. However. center field was all over the place last year as they attempted to replace the irreplaceable in Rhea Taylor.

The Beef: Who are the three most likely to see time starting the season and what should we be expecting out of them?

CPC: This appears to be the one area of the team that is going to be a little more difficult to nail down. I honestly have no idea who the three outfielders will be to start out the season. I would think Sarah Moore is a lock, based on her hitting. Taylor Gadbois had a decent fall and looked okay on Saturday in CF, but I don’t think she has that explosive speed that Taylor had. The other 4 starting outfielders Saturday were Mackenzie Sykes and Brianna Corwin in LF, Kayla Kingsley in CF and Kelsi Jones in RF. Sykes would be my guess as the starter in LF. She started 37 of the 52 games she appeared, only committed 2 errors and had a fielding percentage of .968. So, I’m going with Sykes, Gadbois and Moore in the outfield.

The Beef: I think that is a very solid guess and I can certainly follow the logic. Gadbois is a bit of an unknown considering her redshirt last season. And while I don’t imagine we ever see anyone with the speed of Rhea Taylor again here at MU, Gadbois was known for it coming out of HS where she stole 35 bases in a season and almost 100 in her career. She hit a solid .316 this fall and I like her in CF. I also agree with Moore, and I assume she will be in left where she spent her time this past fall. Around in right, I think we have a ton of options. Sykes is certainly one of them, and while she struggled a bit this past spring, she hit well last year, which is somewhat rare to say about a returner, who was a Jane-of-all trades for the Tigers last season. Kelsi Jones is another, Carlie Rose is yet another, and Corwin is still one more. Jones saw a little time in RF in the spring and hit well. Rose redshirted last year, but owns a ton of single-season Missouri state records, and could be a big bat for the Tigers. Corwin has some experience (though not a ton from last year) but if you held me down, I’d say it was going to be Jones around in right.

Your Starting Nine/Ten

Predict the lineup (both positionally and batting order) for the first game of the season (treating it in a vacuum and not thinking about any matchups)

The Beef: 1. Crane - SS
2. Gadbois - CF
3. Roth - 1B
4. Hudson - 3B
5. Moore - LF
6. Marston - C
7. Muller - DP
8. Jones - RF
9. Genovese - 2B

P Chelsea Thomas

CPC: 1. Gadbois - CF
2. Crane - SS
3. Hudson - 3B
4. Moore - RF
5. Marston - C
6. Mueller - 1B
7. Sykes - LF
8. Genovese - 2B
9. Randazzo - DP

P. Chelsea

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