2014 Mizzou Softball preview: The pitching and the schedule

CPC and I bring you some thoughts on the 2014 Mizzou softball pitching staff, how different it will be, and what to look forward to in 2014

Most fan bases would be satisfied with their sixth consecutive trip to a NCAA Super Regional. Most fan bases didn’t have the likes of Chelsea Thomas, Jenna Marston and Nicole Hudson in their final years of eligibility and the extremely high expectations that accompanied the decorated group. And though we watched as Chelsea would endure and fight her way through a season-long injury and Hudson would be forced to be a backup pitcher, we were still somewhat disappointed to be swept (at home) by Washington.

Replacing one of the two best pitchers in the program’s history and two of the most decorated hitters was always going to be difficult, but Ehren Earleywine and Pete D’Amour did about as good of a job as anyone could have hoped for with a freshman class that could go down as one of the greats. And for this team to get to a seventh NCAA Super Regional and beyond, they are going to have to be just that. There is a good amount of returning talent on this team despite the graduations, but let's start with the newbies.

Pitching

CPC: Our lady Tigers return exactly 0% of their pitching from last year. As previously noted, Thomas has graduated and moved on to the professional ranks. In case you weren’t paying attention last season, Bailey Erwin left the team at the end of February, forcing Hudson to step into the circle. She’s gone, too. While there isn’t a wealth of experienced Tiger hurlers, the team did gain a senior transfer from Southeast Missouri: Alora Marble. Marble pitched two seasons for the Red Hawks, going 18-8 her rookie year and 15-15 as a sophomore before taking last season off (though not as a redshirt evidently) Alora will be expected to bring leadership and experience to the table and possibly start some games, at least in the early season.

The Beef: As it pertains to Marble, I would expect she sees the ball a good bit of time during the week, and certainly on the weekend should someone get in trouble, the team be up by a bunch, or the weekend opponent perhaps merit the start (though our schedule is pretty stacked and missing the Breast Cancer tournament which previously included all the Missouri (state) teams) In a perfect world, she will bring some really nice balance and experience to the rotation to keep innings down for both the frosh.

CPC: Tori Finucane is one of the names in this freshman class that fans should be excited to hear. In the two years of stats available, she went 53-2 with a shocking 0.15 ERA. She had a ridiculous 673 strikeouts in 325 innings, or just a hair over two strikeouts per inning. She allowed only 81 hits and her opponents had a .077 batting average. The numbers are incredible and were the reason she was ESPN Gatorade Player of the Year for Virginia and a member of the MaxPreps All-American Team.

The Beef: I would fully expect to see Finucane become the ace of the staff, and I believe it is going to be pretty important that she does. Coach E was pretty guarded with her during the fall with her innings (and because he had more options than he did last year) and while the competition is never great in those games, Finucane was still able to effectively retire people. The defense let Chelsea down at times last season, so that is going to be important to keep the pitches down on Tori's arm and out of trouble when it should crop up, but I think we can reasonably expect some solid outings from Tori. How quickly she matures into an ace (and it can happen, as Dallas Escobedo was a frosh who led Arizona State to a title not more than a couple of years ago) is the biggest question. But with a big arm, she appears to have the tools to step right in.

CPC: Another exciting name who was also ESPN Gatorade Player of the Year (twice, Idaho) and MaxPreps Player of the Year (and, obviously, on their All-American Team) is Casey Stangel. She also had a very impressive career in high school (only her senior year stats are available); going 26-0 with a 0.72 ERA and 198 strikeouts. Her opponents hit for .143 and she walked only 30 batters last season. As good as she was in the circle, she was equally impressive in the batter’s box, hitting .640 with 15 homers and 65 RBI.

The Beef: How Coach E manages Ms. Stangel will be interesting to track as the season goes on. While Finucane actually was a decent hitter in high school, Stangel is a bat which appears to be such that you cannot keep it out of the lineup. I dont know if Coach E will bat Casey in games she also pitches (may be determined by just HOW good her bat is), but Stangel is someone I expect will appear in every game (where Finucane may only see about half of them). In terms of pitching, her numbers are very solid, though the competition level of Idaho vs. Virginia (Finucane) can certainly be debated. I can easily see a scenario for the season where Marble may potentially split some games with Stangel while Finucane is relied upon to go the distance a bit more often. Stangel does not quite have the power arm that Finucane does, so defense behind her may actually be even more important than it will when Tori is in the circle.

Obviously, we won’t know how Finucane’s numbers and Stangel’s numbers will translate to the collegiate level (especially to the SEC level) until they start playing games that count, but with the kinds of numbers they put up in high school, there’s more than enough reason to be optimistic. It bears mentioning that true frosh Jordan Zolman saw time in the circle this past fall (though very little) and is likely considered an emergency fourth pitcher as this year goes on and perhaps someone who sees some time against lesser teams or games which are near conclusion. You hate to think about the fourth pitcher in a lot of instances, but we know that as Mizzou fans, sometimes injuries to softball pitchers come early and often, and therefore there may be some value to Zolman seeing a few innings as the year goes on.

Schedule

{I wrote the below when the schedule was still the schedule. As of late last night, the Tigers will now head to Baylor instead of Jacksonville this weekend. They will face UAB and Iowa on Friday, Drake on Saturday and #16 Baylor on Sunday. We lose one game off our schedule and MAYBE a little in the RPI, but games are games, and as you can see, RPI/schedule strength is not likely to be a concern. Kudos to the coaches and the organizers at Baylor for getting this late switch done}


{Note #2 - An additional game has been added against Lipscomb on Saturday, so the Tigers will not lose any scheduled games by making this switch from Jacksonville to Baylor for their games}

I will be going back and forth between the final RPI rankings from last year and this year’s USA Today/NFCA Coach’s poll for rankings. Off the top, and using the Coach’s poll, we play 18 games against eight different ranked opponents, plus another seven games against four teams just outside the top 25. That is 25 games against, call it, top-35 teams. Out of 56 games. Of course, we know the Missouri weather is going to steal some of those, but my goodness, that is tough, and could have been worse, but we miss out on Tennessee, LSU and Arkansas in league play this year.

From the standpoint of the RPI, we have 15 games against schools in the top-25 from last year. We have another 16 games against schools in the 26-50 range, 11 more against teams between 51-75 and six against teams in the 76-100. Total it all up and you have 48 games (out of 56) against teams inside the top-100 of the RPI from last year. Again, not a perfect tool, but you get the idea. And to take this exercise to the end, our remaining eight games are against teams in the 160-203 range. With so many people who may see time this year, I fully expect those eight games to feature people who may not otherwise be seeing a lot of time.

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