2014 Mizzou Softball: So how is it going so far?

MU has finished its first three weekends of the season and heads into SEC play.

How quickly the season seems to be going. MU (and the administration) did a great job in making sure the first weekend of the season was not a total wash (to say the least), and they managed to get the Tigers five games they were otherwise about to lose. Because of this, the Tigers have not yet missed a game thus far (knock on wood) and currently sit at 12-3. The schedule has been solid and will only increase in difficulty with the opening of SEC play. I figured this was as good a time as any to take inventory of where the team is while also previewing the upcoming weekend series against the Aggies.

Schedule and Results

As referenced, the Tigers had to ditch out on their initial tourney in Jacksonville for a similar set-up in Waco, TX. They would go 4-1 in their first weekend, with blowout wins against UAB (receiving votes), Lipscomb and Drake, an extra-inning win against Iowa, and a tough loss to the home (#12 ranked) Bears by a single run.

The following weekend had the Tigers traveling to California and saw them start the weekend with their most impressive win of the season, a 2-0 victory over a ranked Arizona Wildcats, their only loss on their 18-1, #7 ranked season. Mizzou would fall again to the Bears (by a single run again) before cruising past Fordham and San Diego State (receiving votes). The final game in CA was against (now) #4 UCLA. The Tigers led 3-2 with two out in the bottom of the last, but UCLA came through with a two-run, walk-off double to stay perfect on their season (and they have remained that way).

Last weekend, the Tigers finally made it to Florida, where they were able to sweep their five games, though some in (perhaps) surprisingly close fashion. Friday games were tight, with a 1-0 win over Bradley and an exciting (but excruciatingly long...thanks Syracuse catcher) 9-8 win over 'Cuse in extra innings. Saturday's first game saw the Tigers score six in the final stanza for a walk-off, 11-10 win over Illinois State. The rest of the weekend eased from there, with a 7-1 win over Radford and a get-away morning 7-0 win over Ohio State to bring us to 12-3, sitting 15th in the latest NFCA poll (which has 10 SEC teams among the top 27 ... ridiculous).

Hitting

Man alive, has Taylor Gadbois been a revelation or what? She is one of five people on the team to play in each game (15) thus far, though she has only 13 starts. In those games, she is 22-44 (with 22 singles), having stolen 15 bases (in 17 chances) and scored 15 runs. With her seven walks (to only three K's), she has an on-base percentage of .569. Next in the lineup has been Sami Fagan, who has started out decently with a .333 batting average in her 15 starts (one of only four to start each game). Fagan has four stolen bases (to showcase some speed) and 10 RBI's. She and Gadbois have done well to set the table for Emily Crane, who is really putting on a show to start the season. Crane is 2nd on the team in BA (.435), first in RBI's (20), tied for first in HR's (3) and also leads the team in slugging (.696). Her 7-for-7 in SBs also has helped bring the speed element back to the MU lineup (as it has been missing to some extent since the departure of Rhea Taylor).

After the top three, Coach E has played around with the lineup a bit, but a few names have been pretty consistent in it. Angela Randazzo is hitting .361 with five extra base hits thus far. Kelsea Roth has also started each game thus far, and her batting average is lagging a bit at .257. She does have 12 walks on the young season (to help balance out her seven K's). Lone senior (in the starting lineup) Mackenzie Sykes has started 14 games and is hitting .283, but with three HR's and a second-best 16 RBI's. Finally, Kristen Mack has received most of the starts at catcher and has struggled out to a .200 batting average with only three RBI's and a single run scored. Casey Stangel has played in 14 games (either as a pitcher or hitter) and is at .167. She has two HR's, but has struck out a team-leading 10 times. It's worth noting that Ashtin Stephens has seen action in 11 games with 10 starts, and though she does not hit often (is sometimes FLEX'ed out by Stangel), she is hitting .316 in 16 AB's.

All in all, I think the hitting has been decent so far. The team is hitting .300 (bound to drop as you hit the conference season) and has shown SOME pop (11 HR's) and quite a bit of speed (34 SB's in 39 attempts). You'd like to see Sykes and Roth bring their averages up (certainly along with Mack and Stangel), and as long as you have 3-4 big bats in the lineup (Crane, Sykes, Roth, Randazzo and Stangel all appear to have a shot at double-digit HRs based on prior or current performance), I think we should be OK. But there have been and will certainly continue to be times where the offense disappears. That is where the speed of people like Gadbois, Fagan and Crane will come in handy in the manufacturing of a run. The team is not striking out too much (59 times in 15 games), but could stand to walk more (50 free passes).

Fielding

With young pitching, I talked about how important this would be when previewing the team last month. To date, the fielding has been pretty inconsistent. Randazzo struggled some early on at 3B with a couple of errors. Fagan, who basically moved an all-conference defensive player (Corrin Genovese) out of SS, has had three errors. Mack has a couple of errors behind the plate, and Kelli Schkade, who has seen some time at 2B, has three errors as well.

Crane has been perfect on the year, which is nice since she is playing a good deal in the outfield. Sykes has also been perfect in the outfield, and those two have combine for three outfield assists. Stephens may be on her way to earning even more time at 2B, as she only has one error thus far. The overall fielding percentage is at .969 (13 errors total in 15 games, though I believe four were in one game), and I would like to see it move into the .97X-range to consider the team to be solid there.

Pitching

Has is it been, perhaps, what we hoped and imagined it might be? I probably would not go quite that far. But I think it has been pretty solid and potentially indicative of the future. Each pitcher has had some great outings, and each has had some struggles.

To date, Stangel actually has more innings pitched than anyone else, and leads the team with a 1.42 ERA. In 44.1 innings, she has given up 37 hits and 17 walks, so you'd like to see her have some more 1-2-3 innings. She has given up 12 runs (nine earned) and does have 23 K's with her 6-1 record. At 5-2, Tori Finucane has thrown 38 innings with a 1.66 ERA, giving up 34 hits and 12 walks. She is responsible for 11 runs (nine earned) and has 29 K's on her 5-2 record. Alora Marble has a 1-0 record and two starts on the year but was hit around a bit in her primary outing, leaving her with a 3.91 ERA over 14.1 innings. She has given up 15 hits, but only two walks with six K's, and all eight runs she has given up are earned.

Overall, the team batting average against is .236, and you'd like to see that come down a bit as the season moves on. I believe Stangel and Finucane are capable of pitching against some of the best teams out there, and while we'd like to see more Ks, that may come in time with training, strength and coaching. In the meantime, if they can limit the walks, the name of the game is keeping the pitches down and staying fresh as we get into the grind of the conference season with mid-week games.

What's Next?

The Tigers head down to College Station to take on the #13 Aggies this weekend. aTm is 16-4, with losses to McNeese State (4-2), #20 Tulsa (5-2), #16 Nebraska (3-2 in 9) and #7 Arizona (4-2). Their best win on the season would be a 2-1 win over San Diego State. Yes, this team is ranked 13th in the country. I guess I find that a little odd.

Anyway, this team can pound the ball, hitting .334 on the season with 24 HR's in 20 games. Leading the way is Nicole Morgan, who is hitting .475 with 7 HR's, 27 RBI's, a slugging of .964 and a OBP of .587 (all team-leading). Emily Albus is next in line at .435 and has nine stolen bases. Cassie Tysarczyk (please let me never have to type that last name again) and April Ryan each hit better than .382 with 7 HR's and 41 RBI's split almost perfectly between the two. Four other players (Taran Tyler, Amber Garza, Breanna Dozier and Cali Lamphear) have multiple HR's a piece, accounting for 10 as a group. In the field, the team is pretty solid, with only 15 errors and a fielding percentage of .973.

On the mound, gone is long-time Aggie ace Mel Dumezich and it seems like the Aggies are also in a similar transition time. Katie Marks has eight starts on the year with a 1.44 ERA over 48.2 innings, having given up 37 hits and 14 walks with 29 K's, good enough to make her 7-0. Rachel Fox has nine starts and a 2.27 ERA over 46.1 innings. She has given up 45 hits and 13 walks, along with eight unearned runs (the team has given up 14 of them to only five for Mizzou) and 28 K's. All in all, it looks like the Aggie pitchers can certainly be touched, as the team ERA against is 2.21 with a batting average against of .257.

As for the rest of the schedule (and skipping over the mid-week games which, for the most part, don't have any highly ranked opponents), Mizzou has #8 Kentucky coming to town next weekend. Illinois State (who took Mizzou to the limit before falling 11-10) has a pair of games during the following week before Mizzou has one last OOC Tournament against no one receiving votes. Mizzou welcomes #18 Georgia to Como in the last weekend of March, then heads to #27 Miss. State the first weekend in April. Another road trip to #26 Auburn follows before Mizzou can return home the weekend of the Spring Game against Ole Miss.

The following weekend (4/25-4/27) is our trip down to Gainesville against the #1 Gators before closing out the home conference schedule against #11 Alabama. I count 18 games against teams in the top-27 ... trial by fire for this young team.

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