Once upon a time, in a land of fewer children, a less-stringent web filter at work and before job promotions, I used to find the time to pen some pieces in the “Know Your Opponent” series. The last one of these I was able to do was before the LSU Super Regional last year, so it has been awhile. Thanks to the hard work of CPC earlier this year, we were able to get some weekly stuff up on the site until things go crazy for the both of us. Hopefully this piece can serve as a launching point for the discussion on the weekend to come. For those of you new to the NCAA Softball Championships, the first round features 16, 4-team pods. Each group has a nationally seeded (top-16) team and three others which will play a double-elimination format to determine a winner. The group is seeded 1-4, so that means first up for the Tigers will be the Stony Brook Sea Wolves, as they are the only team which MU is guaranteed to see. I will cover them and other teams in the days to come, though it is possible MU only plays one of the other two. And since I am nothing if not formulaic, I am going to use the same setup as I did previously, so let’s get right to it.
MU since last we talked
I may as well review the entire year as quickly as possible. Here goes….
February was a mix of weather issues and wins, as the Tigers hit the road for all of the month and came back with nine wins, four rainouts, and two losses, though each of a different nature. In the wins, we were hitting homeruns and pitching well against mostly sub-90 RPI teams, though we did sprinkle in a thrilling 4-3 win in 12 innings over Florida. In the four rainouts we saw what was to come all year. In one loss, we fell to #57 Fullerton 5-4. In the other loss, we lost Bailey Erwin as our #2 pitcher, who suddenly quit the team before conference play would start in early March
A word (or some words) on what this cost MU
So Bailey Erwin last pitched for Mizzou against Fullerton in a game which Mizzou lost (would be their first loss of the year) on Feb 23rd. From there, they would go on to lose 10 more games. Here they are, along with my thoughts on if Erwin would have made a difference:
- vs. aTm 11-3: Thomas was shelled early in this one after beating the Ags the day before 2-0. Mizzou did score some runs, but this one is tough to judge because aTm would have been the best Erwin faced by far at that point in the season.
- vs. Alabama 4-1: Thomas took the loss in the series opener. Erwin would not have pitched
- vs. Alabama 14-6: So Thomas came back the next day to beat ‘Bama 9-4. If we assume the preferred would have been to rest Chelsea in the middle game, do we believe Erwin holds ‘Bama to 8 or less? This is where this activity gets a little tricky
- vs. Arkansas 4-1 in 11 innings: Thomas won the night before and was pitching fine before three unearned runs derailed the Tigers late.
- vs. Arkansas 11-10 in 8: Another case where Erwin would have likely pitched on Saturday, allowing Thomas an extra day of rest for the return match on Sunday. So it may not be a question of whether or not Erwin won on Saturday, but would Thomas win on Sunday as a result of the extra day off?
- vs. LSU 8-0: By this point, Coach E had gone to the Thomas-Hudson-Thomas rotation, and we took the games Thomas started. I don’t see that Erwin would have fared much better here.
- vs. WKU 1-0: So this is a somewhat obvious one which I think people get wrong. Hudson pitched both games of this twin-bill (against the #27 team) and only gave up 2 runs total. We just did not score any (obviously) in one of those. Does that suddenly change with Erwin on the mound? I don’t feel like it does.
- vs. Kentucky 8-2: Again, another weekend where the Tigers took 2 of 3 on the road against a ranked team.
- vs. Tenn 10-1: Same as above, except they did it at home this time.
So in the end, I personally think (and everyone is welcome to draw and discuss their own conclusions in the comments if you are so inclined) the lack of Erwin cost us a game against Arkansas…and that is it. Yes, I can see the argument for games against aTm and Kentucky. As for Alabama, since Chelsea lost the series opener, I think a day off on Saturday would have resulted in Erwin losing the game we actually won, with Chelsea then winning a game we lost, so no change. Against LSU and Tenn, I just don’t see it making any more difference. So let’s say I split with people on aTm/Kentucky and give up one more win. So that puts us at 37-9 overall, 17-6 in conference. As Florida was 18-6, they would have still been #1, making our path to the SEC finals barely different (would have faced #10 South Carolina instead of #6 Arkansas).
In terms of games to come, from a RPI standpoint, we were 7th and ultimately seeded 6th. Maybe we earn another spot up the chain to 5th seed, but considering RPI was not an EXACT indicator for where teams were seeded, going any further would be tough and without a lot of merit (which is saying something considering how much I have just written). Is Chelsea’s arm any more or less tired at this point in the year? It might be a LITTLE better, but not much. Would Erwin help going forward? I believe yes she would, and that is where the biggest impact will be. …but I will get into that later.
Back to MU’s season
Well, the part about Bailey really kind of summed it up. To fill in some blanks, MU was hot in March, losing only to aTm before winning 12 in a row over Evansville, Ole Miss, Ga Tech, South Carolina and SMS, taking us to April 3rd. From April 5th to the end of the month, MU would scuffle a bit as they take on some tough teams and try to figure out the weekend pitching, going 7-7 with the losses outlined above. May has proven to be better for the Tigers thus far, as they are 6-2 with wins over W. Illinois (2), Tenn (3) and Arkansas.
MU Regular Season Offensive Leaders:
- Batting Average: Emily Crane - .373 (Marston at .366 and Hudson at .323 for the only three to play in each of MU’s 46 games)
- OBP: Nicole Hudson - .483
- Slugging: Kelsea Roth - .725 (ahead of Hudson at .723)
- Runs: Nicole Hudson – 36 (Crane with 35 and Marston/Sykes with 33)
- HR's: Kelsea Roth and Nicole Hudson – 15 (next is Angela Randazzo with 8)
- RBI's: Angela Randazzo – 47 (Hudson with 43 and Roth with 41)
- XBH: Nicole Hudson – 22 (7/0/15)
- Walks: Nicole Hudson - 41
- SB's: Emily Crane - 13
- Team Batting/OBP/Slugging: .320 (up 50 points from last year)/.416/.531 (up 101 points from last year)