I am pretty sure I already know what the narrative will be for the 2014 softball Tigers next season. With the loss of senior stalwarts like Nicole Hudson, Jenna Marston and Chelsea Thomas, along with the fact Mizzou will have only two seniors on the squad, we will hear about how young the team is all year long. How many of those frosh will crack the lineup is an interesting question, and one which I will try to get answered before all is said and done. But before we get to that step, let’s take a look who departs the Fightin’ Earleywines in 2014. (All class references will be made based on 2014 eligibility)
Departing Seniors (offense)
Even as someone who follows the program fairly closely, I don’t know that I would have come up with the fact there are six seniors moving on. At the plate, you have a combined 124 (of 413) hits, 93 (of 312) runs, 23 (of 62) HR’s, 100 (of 286) RBI’s and 84 (of 204) BB’s walking away. Obviously, the majority of those stats belonged to Hudson and Marston, but do not sleep on the performance and contribution of Rachel Hay from this past season. Used in 30 games and starting 11, Hay batted .256, but hit 5 HR’s on the year with 17 RBI’s. She allowed the Tigers to give Marston some time away from catching out the field, and her .294 average in SEC play was very respectable. Beyond her, Princess Krebs was little more than a pinch runner for most of the season, while Lindsey Muller saw some time both in the circle and at the plate.
Though the offensive loss will be felt in the homerun and “contact” columns, do not underestimate the value of the combined 69 walks between Hudson and Marston, who finished 1-2 in that category all-time for Mizzou. Their ability to get on base not only set up people like Randazzo and Roth for success, but also helped wear through pitchers. The Tigers walked just over twice as much as their opponents. Certainly, some of that is due to Chelsea Thomas (and Hudson was not bad there either in the circle), but some of that was due to good patience at the plate. Obviously, the Tigers will miss the hits and runs scored and long balls, but they may end up missing the walks as well next season.
Departing Seniors (defense and pitching)
It was no secret the Tiger defense struggled for much of the year, leading to 62 errors, 37 unearned runs and countless, extra pitches at the expense of Tiger arms. With the senior departure, you have 16 of the errors leaving (or have already left, as Erwin did have one), but strangely, not taking many of the putout attempts with them. If you remove Marston (and Erwin) from the equation (she of only 3 errors and 251 putouts thanks to her time behind the plate), you have 12 errors remaining on only 96 putouts. Hudson struggled early in the year, and never really saw the field after that except as a pitcher. Krebs certainly struggled at the end of the year, and those two combined for 11 of the 12 (Hay had the other). Might it be a little addition by subtraction on the fielding percentage line for the Tigers? We almost need to hope so.
In the circle, there is little sense recapping all the accolades and accomplishments of CT-18. She was such a huge part of the program for quite some time, and her mark on this program will last for quite some time to come. As it pertains to the 2013 version of a CT-led pitching staff, every single pitch thrown by someone in a Mizzou uniform this year is represented by someone who will not be with the team next season. All 335 innings. All 291 K’s and only 100 BB’s. All 38 wins, all 14 losses and the one save. (can you name who got it?) Kind of a harrowing thought if you ask me, but one which we will try to un-harrow later.
Who is coming back on the infield?
Due to some injuries, presumed return from injuries and platooning, it is possible the Tigers will return seven of their nine positions, leaving only pitcher and catcher out of the mix. We will bring back power, some speed, solid hitting, and fair defense. The infield seems to be the most crowded area for Mizzou, as you would like to believe your infield of Kelsea Roth, Emily Crane, Corrin Genovese and Angie Randazzo will all come back, giving you three juniors and a sophomore. At first base, Roth was solid all season, batting .304 both on the year and in conference. She tied for the team lead in HR’s with 16 in her 49 starts. She will need to get a little better at the plate, as she struck out a team-high 26 times and managed to ground into the only two double plays turned on the Tigers this year (weird). Across the diamond, Randazzo was a RBI machine, leading the team with 47 on her .309 average. She too was solid in the SEC season, hitting .308 in 23 games. Randazzo showed good pop at the plate with 8 HR’s, but you would like for that number to reach double-digits to help offset the loss of Hudson. Defensively, Randazzo struggled some at the hot corner, with 11 errors, which may have led to her move to DP in the NCAA’s.
Up the middle, you have to love the development of Genovese at the plate. In the field, she was pretty close to the same player who was a defensive highlight reel at times for the 2012 version of the Tigers. She committed eight errors this year, but certainly had some highlights as well. Where she impacted the team the most was at the plate. Corrin hit .303 on the year (a decent .288 in SEC play) and even displayed a little strength with a couple of HR’s. The Tigers will need Corrin to continue that improvement as they aim to shore up the lineup, but she made a heck of a step from her first year to her second. Speaking of frosh-to-soph steps, what might Crane do for an encore? Leading the team with a .376 average (.324 in SEC play) Emily did a little bit of everything with (59 hits, 16 doubles and 3 HR’s. She did well to steal 13 bases (on 15 attempts) from the top of the lineup, and she fielded her position decently with seven errors.
Seems pretty cut and dry, right?? Well, as Lee Corso might say, “Not so fast, my friend.” There is someone else who is very likely to be (gator) chomping at the bit to get back into the game, and that is RS-sophomore transfer Sami Fagan. Fagan was a tremendous piece of the 2012 UF softball team before she was released right before the end of the season. For that year in 57 starts, Fagan batted .378 as a true frosh with 71 hits, 7 doubles 5 triples and even a homerun to boot. As stolen from MUTigers.com, “when bunting, Fagan hit an incredible .643, recording 18 bunt singles in 28 at bats” (which begs the question…why not have her bunt all the time? Fagan was also 20-24 in stolen bases. She played that season at third base, and I believe she may land there again for the Tigers, pushing Randazzo to either the DP spot, or another position perhaps.
Beyond these five, junior Ashtin Stephens and senior Brianna Corwin both are listed as infielders, but may not be more than designated pinch runners. Corwin did excel at this in 2013, seeing action in 29 games with 11 runs and 3 stolen bases. Stephens did see a little time in the field, registering three assists without an error.
Who is coming back in the outfield?
As referenced earlier, some injuries and near-season-long platooning give the Tigers a number of options here. Almost certain to return will be senior Mackenzie Sykes. Sykes was yet another Tiger who was solid throughout the year, hitting .319/.317. She showed good pop with 20 extra base hits of her 43 (12/1/7 HR’s) and she settled nicely into a starting spot when all around her were a bit unsettled as the year went on. Someone I would hope is able to return at full steam would be junior Kayla Kingsley. Kingsley was hitting .327 overall (and .333 in 13 starts in SEC play) before a knee injury ended her season. Not much for pop, but Kinglsey had good speed with nine steals in 11 attempts, and is someone I think could help with some lineup balance while giving us some nice options as opposing pitchers work through our order.
So if those two are back (and with Kingsley coming off a knee injury from around April, who knows), who is the third? On one hand, you have RS sophomore Carly Rose who started 31 games this year, hitting .310 (though only .257 in 21 games/12 starts in SEC play). Rose did not bring much beyond singles (25 of her 27 total hits), but her glove was solid, with only one error. You also have junior Kelsi Jones, who ended up only starting 8 games for the Tigers where she had started twice that (with 40 total appearances) as a frosh. Jones struggled at the plate, batting only .212 on the year, and only hit .167 in SEC play in her three starts. Struggling even more, unfortunately, was sophomore Sarah Moore. The only other frosh from 2012, Caoch E. appeared to REALLY want Moore to get it. She had 24 starts, seeing action in 30 games, and batted a whopping .170. She even had 12 starts (15 games) in the SEC, and was even worse at .115. Moore was someone I thought would play a big role for the Tigers this past year, and it just did not come to pass. No telling if she will or won't next year, but here’s hoping she is able to overcome her yips at the plate.
Rounding out the returners is RS-sophomore Taylor Gadbois. She saw action in 40 games, primarily as a pinch runner (6 steals, scoring 10 runs with only 29 AB’s), and she even saw nine starts when the coaches were trying to figure out how to replace Kingsley. Sadly, Gadbois struck out 16 times in her 29 at bats on her way to batting .103 on the year (.091 in the SEC if you can believe it)