The Beef - May as well just rip the band-aid right off. With everything that has happened in the last few days (Finucane injury, performances on Friday and Saturday and then the disappointment of Sunday), how are you feeling right now about the 2014 season on the whole?
CPC - To me, 2014 was always going to be a rebuilding year. Especially when you consider our top two pitchers and our starting catcher were freshmen. Granted, these were highly touted recruits and I've said in the past that the learning curve for incoming freshmen isn't as steep in softball as, say, football...but these are highly skilled positions that require a bit more experience than anywhere else on the field. Tori Finucane firmly staked her place as the #1 pitcher as expected and positioned herself near the top of the SEC going into next year. Casey Stangel is a more than capable #2 and showed that she can throw 6 2/3 solid innings in a high pressure postseason game. Kirsten Mack showed that she's solid behind the plate and her focus should be on hitting during this offseason. Like I said...I expected most of this.
What I didn't anticipate was the high RPI the team had most of the year and the chance to win the SEC outright going into the final weekend, which raised my expectations. That made the fall to earth Sunday a little harder to swallow. My expectations kept lowering as the weekend progressed, considering games 2 and 3 against Alabama and the egg laid in South Carolina against LSU...by the end of the Bradley game, I was concerned about making it to next weekend...which we didn't.
I said last year sometime that 2015 was going to be "the" chance for a run at the title. I still feel that way. Our freshmen will be sophomores and I think that is the biggest year-to-year improvement in player development in college. We only lost 2 seniors, only 1 of which played regularly. We gain another excellent freshman class and perhaps most importantly--Kayla Kingsley returns healthy.
Switzy - The conclusion of the season was certainly disappointing, but I am not feeling disappointed. I think I was fully prepared for the result as soon as Finucane's injury was verified. The extremes weren't as pronounced, but this was very analogous to the Chelsea/Nicole Hudson pitching situation from last year. Casey's certainly a better pitcher than Nicole, but she's simply not ready to pitch at the level necessary to consistently beat higher level teams like Nebraska.
On the season as a whole, I'm feeling good. This team didn't lose much, and it lost a LOT of close games with a squad of much youth that should grow and improve from top to bottom regardless. The team loses only two seniors, so if they use this run of bad fortune to drive their work ethic and motivation into next year, we could be looking at something really impressive. If any athletic program at Mizzou deserves optimism, it's this one - I'm already in line for the bandwagon.
Bill C - I used to have a running joke about Mizzou Football: Exceeding expectations in the most disappointing way possible. That's kind of what this season felt like with softball. If you'd have told me at the beginning of the season that Mizzou would still have a chance at the SEC title with two games remaining in the regular season and would host another regional, and that Finucane would prove to indeed be the real deal, I'd have bought it, no questions asked.
There was so much youth and so much to rebuild from last season that this would have been a more-than-sufficient outcome. But getting to the precipice of the title and losing two close games to Alabama ... then laying an egg in the SEC Tournament ... then losing Finucane ... then starting 2-0 anyway ... then losing twice. That was certainly a frustrating set of teases.
Regardless, we knew Nebraska would be a tough out in the regionals, and we thought Mizzou's odds of advancing were only decent WITH Finucane. The outcome was not surprising, and I was able to move past it about halfway through the final game. Too much coming back next year to dwell for too long.
The Beef - Alright, before we get looking forward to next season, let's revisit expectations from this previous one. Give me your top two pleasant surprises for this past year, as well as the two things you thought would happen, but did not (player performance, W/L, Coach E not getting run from a game...whatever)
Bill C - Good surprise: My goodness, Taylor Gadbois. Three hits and six stolen bases as a redshirt freshman, a .421 batting average and 46 steals as a sophomore. One could have hoped she'd do well, but she was incredible.
Good surprise: Corrin Genovese was salty and all over the place in the field, which was expected ... and she also batted .410 with five homers. She's going to be one hell of a senior leader next year. Loved what I saw from her last weekend.
Needs improvement: Casey Stangel really did get rocked by SEC opponents (and, yes, Nebraska). Pitching to contact is fine, but your ceiling really is limited when you strike out 0.5 people per inning. Pitching to contact only works if the contact isn't really hard. As she gets more experienced, she should develop into a solid No. 2 (if she can fend off others in that regard), but the thought of having two aces certainly didn't come to fruition.
Needs improvement: I guess Kelsea Roth really didn't do as much at the plate as I figured she would. She's ridiculously patient, and her 30 walks poked her OBP over .400, but a .256 average with 8 HRs wasn't what I imagined from her as a junior. No major complaint, but that could certainly stand to improve.
Switzy- To avoid too many of the same answers, I'll take a slightly different approach.
Pleasant surprise: Results - sweeping Auburn and taking 2 of 3 from Florida on the road were impressive and unexpected results after a little shakiness in early SEC play. Those games showed what this team is capable of going forward.
Pleasant surprise: Natalie Fleming. She didn't always get the playing time, but .299 with 6 HR from a freshman is still very good, and certainly beyond what I was expecting from her this early in her career.
Unpleasant surprise: Defense. Genovese just makes web gems. But she also stumbled in the field too often this season. The Sami Fagan at C experiment exposed Angie Randazzo as a 3rd baseman, and neither Ashtin Stephens nor Kelli Schkade were able to hold down 2nd particularly well. Oh...and when Emily Crane was injured, RF became a scary place. That's going to have to be an area of improvement for next year.
Unpleasant surprise: I'll repeat Casey Stangel, but from the other side of her game. There was some expectation that she would challenge for the #1 role in the circle, but also as a threat at the plate. Bill covered her pitching, but her hitting was arguably even worse. She hit only .200 in 75 at-bats (albeit with 3 HR). I think she can definitely develop, but her first year as a Tiger has to be disappointing for her.
CPC - Good surprise: Gadbois, for the same reasons Bill listed.
Good surprise: As I mentioned earlier, earning and maintaining such a high RPI. Sure, that's partially due to the quality of the conference, but we played some very difficult opponents and mostly beat them the rest of the year, too.
Disappointment: The silence of the bats down the stretch...again. It seems like every year, the offense struggles going into the postseason. In the 21 innings prior (Alabama twice and LSU) to the start of the Regional, the Tigers scored 1 run on 13 hits and stranded 18 runners. Things picked up over the next 22 innings (Bradley, kansas, Nebraska) with 16 runs on 35 hits while stranding 26, but the wheels fell off again during the second game against the Huskers with 1 run on 7 hits and stranding 6. Yes, the competition gets tougher in May, but you can't win ball games if you can't score runs. Especially with pitchers who need run support like Stangel and Alora Marble.
Disappointment: I guess if I have to have a second disappointment, I'll go with the lack of power from Roth, although that's tempered with an overall better body of work at the plate. I really expected her to hit in the 3 hole this year after crushing the ball last year, but she seemed to spend most of the season 6th or 7th on the lineup. Really interested to see what happens with her next year.
Sometimes I come up with things in my head that aren't based on truth and that makes things fuzzy, but why do I remember the Fagan to catcher experiment being about Mack's hitting and trying to cover that hole up?
Switzy - I'm pretty sure that's what it was. But I don't think anyone anticipated just how badly the fielding would suffer as a result.
The Beef - So let's explore that out. Before we get to talking about new pieces for next year, let's talk about what is coming back. And what do we do with Kayla Kingsley?
Switzy - What's coming back is pretty much everything. LF (Sykes), 2B (lack of production) and C (lack of production) are probably the only three spots definitely open for next year. Of those, Kingsley could very well have the inside track to take over in left, and Natalie Fleming is listed as a 3B/2B, so I suspect she at least gets a fighting chance at claiming that spot. At catcher, Mack's performance in the regionals was heartening, and could give her an edge. It will certainly be interesting to see what happens to Randazzo and Schkade (probably the most likely to emerge from the group of lower producing players) as well as if and how many players transfer.
CPC - You want to put Carlie Rose on your "Most Likely to Transfer" list? Because she just announced she's transferring: https://twitter.com/CarlieRose32/status/468796583933267968
Bill C - Let's see ... most likely to emerge next year...
[scans list of freshmen who barely played or didn't play to find the next Gadbois]
The Beef - You know…I had a thought/fear that if we got into a real bind that we could see Jordan pitching in the NCAA Regionals…because…you know…anything can happen
So let’s start to bring this to a close. Switzy has done some work previously on the recruiting class the Tigers have coming in, and more can be found on it HERE. And because it is NEVER too early, give me the projected starting 10 next season
1. Gadbois - CF
2. Crane - RF
3. Genovese - SS
4. Randazzo - DP
5. Fleming - 2B
6. Fagan - 3B
7. Roth/Walters - 1B
8. Mack - C
9. Kingsley - LF
Finucane - P
Notes: Walters seems most likely to make a splash as a freshman, and could very well be in line to take over 1st. So she gets my coveted surprise appearance in the way-too-early lineup. Fagan's power never arrived, so I think she gets moved down the lineup a bit, while Kingsley returns to a table-setting situation in the 9 spot. There will be situational playing time available for some of the other incoming freshmen, but seeing a couple redshirts used next season would not be surprising. Paige Lowery will come in at pitcher and should upgrade the rotation, possibly even challenging Stangel for #2 duties.
Bill C - I'd like to think that Roth/Walters will bring enough pop to the table to end up in the No 5-6 spot, and I'd love it if Fleming ends up in the No. 4, but no complaints here. I'll copy switzy's lineup.
CPC - Ditto...I suck at making lineups.
Bill C - You'll never be a good manager with that attitude.
CPC - I'm surprised you don't have a spreadsheet with formulas and algorithms and stuff to determine the best batting order.
Bill C - I do, but I refuse to share it. I'm a joyless misanthrope.