Before you get to following Mizzou in regional softball action this afternoon, let's make sure we've completed our preparatory checklist.
- Pledge vast sums via the world's greatest fundraiser
- Read over each and every preview of the non-Mizzou regional participants
- Check out the Columbia Regional hub from MUTigers.com (with links to GameTracker and streaming options)
- Clear your Friday afternoon from all that pesky work business
- Procure adult beverages
Got ‘em all? Sounds like you're just about ready. For comparison purposes (and for those of you who don't follow closely through the season), here's a brief rundown of the Missouri softball team. Check it out, and consider this your live thread for the Mizzou regional.
Game 1: Kansas v. Nebraska - 12:30 p.m.
Game 2: Missouri v. Bradley - 3:00 p.m.
It's tough to predict a lineup for Mizzou for a variety of reasons, but here is a crack at what we might see (also, a near guarantee that it will not be what we actually see):
1. Taylor Gadbois (So. - CF) The surprise star, Gadbois has run with her hot start right through to the end of the season. Her .422 average is 34th in the country, and she swipes the 4th most stolen bases per game in the country (45 SB in 50 attempts). She also co-owns the team lead for strikeouts with 21, which I'm sure will be a focus in the offseason.
2. Sami Fagan (So. - SS) Fagan has been catching, but there's a chance she moves back to the field to solidify the defense. Fagan is 4th on the Tigers...with a .354 average. She hasn't shown much pop this season (9 doubles, 2 HR), but she hits when needed, ranking 2nd on the team in RBI with 41.
3. Emily Crane (So. - RF) .381, 9 doubles, 4 HR, 15 SB and a 16/7 BB/K ratio. Those numbers would probably be even better had she not missed games with an injury earlier in the year.
4. Angela Randazzo (Jr. - DP) Randazzo has struggled in the field lately, and served as DP frequently enough through the season that this wouldn't be an out-of-the-blue decision. She bats .342, is tied for 3rd on the team with 6 HR, and is second on the team in walks with 26 (to only 10 strikeouts).
5. Corrin Genovese (Jr. - 3B) Her .387 average suggests that not starting her 13 times early in the season may have been a mistake. Genovese has a little juice (5 HR and a team leading .571 slugging percentage), and makes her living putting bat to ball (only 5 walks and only 3 strikeouts on the year).
6. Mackenzie Sykes (Sr. - LF) Sykes is the team's most potent deep ball threat, with 10 doubles and 8 HR. However, her effectiveness is weakened a bit by a pedestrian .272 average.
7. Kelsea Roth (Jr. - 1B) Roth has struggled this season, seeing her average drop from over .300 last year to only .237 this year. Her power has remained intact, though, as he is 2nd on the Tigers with 7 HR. She also leads the team in walks AND strikeouts (28 and 21 respectively).
8a. Carlie Rose (So. - C) If Fagan is put at SS, Stubble can go with Mack or Rose at C. Rose played extensively as a freshman, but seems to have taken a step back this season at the plate. In limited action, she is hitting .222 with 2 doubles and 1 HR. She does have a little speed, stealing 5 bases in 6 attempts.
8b. Kirsten Mack (Fr. - C) Mack has actually slightly outperformed Rose in limited time - .225 average, 4 doubles, 2 HR, 12 RBI, and a team-high 7 HBP. But she also has 15 strikeouts in 71 at-bats.
9. Kelli Schkade (Fr. - 2B) .235, 4 doubles, team-high 3 triples, 3 HR, 9-13 on SB attempts. Schkade has settled into the 9 spot pretty comfortably, as someone with the potential to be a hitter at the top of the lineup, but who isn't ready yet. She has shown flashes at different points in the season, though, and could be an important tool for the Tigers during the tournament.
I hate leaving out Natalie Fleming, but I don't see a spot for her in the lineup unless Stubble decides not to remove Randazzo (in which case Fleming becomes the DP and Rose/Mack sit). She'll be the pinch hitter du jour in my lineup card. For now, defense should be the driving factor in making the lineup card - if the recent hitting slumps continue, that may change.
Tempted as I am to skip this portion of the preview, Missouri's painful defense must be addressed. Their overall percentage is a brutal .964. In the lineup I suggest, Randazzo, who co-leads the Tigers with 12 errors) would not be in the field. Fagan is the other fielder with 12, but I don't have numbers on how many are at SS vs. how many are at C. Genovese contributed 9 errors this year (but also ¾ of the Web Gem plays Mizzou had) and Schkade has 6. The OF is fairly solid, with only 5 combined errors (and none for Emily Crane).
The defense has been a problem because with Tori Finucane on the mound, the Tigers allowed 19 unearned runs, with Casey Stangel, 20 unearned runs, and with Alora Marble (who only pitched 45 innings), 8 unearned runs. That's 47 total unearned runs on the year, or a deflating 25.7% of all runs allowed.
SEC Freshman of the Year Tori Finucane has done her best attempt to make us all okay with the loss of Chelsea Thomas. She is 21-6 with a lovely 1.73 ERA and 168 strikeouts to only 57 walks. She has been prone to giving up the big swing - 14 HR allowed - but the SEC has some big bats and that's probably going to happen.
The 2nd pitcher is freshman Casey Stangel who is more of a finesse pitcher, but who has struggled to remain confident enough to put the ball in the strike zone. She has walked 58 batters (1 more than Finucane) in 144 innings (46 fewer than Finucane). She has also given up 15 HR. As The Beef mentioned in his preview of Bradley, Stangel had a strong outing against them earlier.
The question becomes whether Ehren Earleywine has enough trust in his squad to put her out there under the conditions of the NCAA tournament. Every win is vital, and he might want to ensure the opening victory simply to get the team back on track from a rough few games. I cautiously predict that we will see Stangel in the circle to start the game, but with a quick trigger if things go awry. Finucane is going to have to pitch a lot if Missouri progresses, so today might be a matter of saving her arm for those games.
Look at the class listings in that lineup. Only 1 senior, only 3 juniors. This is a young squad and they are going to get better next year. A good run in this year's tournament could provide momentum enough to spark some ridiculous expectations entering next season. For now, though, let's enjoy watching these ladies take hold of their 7th straight regional win.