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Reviewin' & Previewin' - Softball

Only two weeks left in the Reviewin' & Previewin', and we head to the diamond to tackle the 2009 Softball season for the Mizzou Tigers and Coach Ehren Earleywhine.  The Tigers finished up 2008 on a high, as they won their regional and advanced to the Super Regional before they were dispatched by Alabama.  However, confidence was high in 2009 with a solid core of ladies returning, along with what was considered a good recruiting class coming in.  How good the team would be though would still be a surprise.  In the end, lots of long winning streaks, a little disappointment here and there made for a season for the ages for this program. 

Let's take a look back, starting with the numbers (so we don't lose Bill C's attention right away), but before we do, a couple of notes. I will likely not be able to provide FULL stats for the team because....well...we dont seem to keep them.  These stats will be care of the Big XII Website and anywhere else from which I can piece them together.  Also, with all the press the team received, much of what I would normally do in this post has been done already, and by me nonetheless.  So, no sense in rehashing what I have already eloquently typed, so here are two pieces certainly worth reading:

2009 - By the Numbers

2009 Record: 50-12  (home 17-6, road 15-3, neutral 18-3, conference 12-6, out of conference 31-3)
Team BA: .313 (.196 opponent) (led league in both categories)
On-Base Percentage: .403  (led league)
Slugging Percentage: .490 (led league)
Hits: 510 (288 opponent) (led league in both categories)
Runs: 363 (111 opponent, 85 earned) (led league in both categories)
HR's: 60 (19 opponent) (led league in both categories)
RBI's: 333 (lead league)
Stolen Bases: 130 (in 152 attempts) (led league)

Team ERA: 1.47 (led league)
Innings Pitched:
Walks allowed: 106 (2nd in league)
Strikeouts: 343 (2nd in league)
24 (led league)

Seniors Lost: 4 (out of 22)
Positional Starters Lost: 3
Hits Lost: 159 (of 510) - 31%
Runs Lost: 102 (of 363) - 28%
HR's Lost: 25 (of 60) - 42%
RBI's Lost: 120 (of 333) - 36%
Innings Pitched Lost: 133 (of 406) - 33%
Wins Lost: 16 (of 50) - 32%
2010 Roster Breakdown by Year: 6 seniors, 8 juniors, 4 sophomores, 5 freshmen

All you can really say

Yes, there is a lot of youth on this team, but we should not underestimate the impact of the seniors leaving.  In the batter's box, you have three players departing and taking good percentages of the offense with them.  The team will especially need to find some new power, as Lindsey Ubrun and Micaela Minner take an awful lot of HR's with them.  Minner was such an amazing story and inspiration for this team, as she was barely able to walk by the end of the season because of blown knees.  She still showed up every day and batted .331 with 8 HR's and plenty of big hits.  Ubrun, a unanimous first-team All-Big XII selection and a second-team All-American selection was the HR leader of the squad with 16 (second in the league), RBI's with 56 (also second in the league), total bases with 116 (you guessed it, second in the league), and slugging percentage at .725 (yes, second in the league, all to the same person).  Andee Allen was a calming influence at the plate, taking the most walks of anyone on the squad (29) and committing only seven errors in the field.  On the bump, Stacy Delaney was nothing short of a god-send for this program.  The transfer from Michigan only went 36-7 in her two seasons with the Tigers and will forever be remembered as the pitcher who dominated the Bruins in the Super Regional to allow the Tiger to win in impressive, walk-off fashion, while also being voted first-team All-Big XII.

Now that the departing seniors have been paid their due, let's finally look to the future.  Will this team start the 2010 season placed in the top 10 like where they finished?  Most likely not, but this program is certainly built for the long haul at this point.  Coming back at the top of the lineup and in the outfield will be future junior CF Rhea Taylor.  All Taylor has done in her first two years in the program is hit just about .400 with a staggering amount of SB's, which saw her rewarded in being one of four Tigers named first-team All-Big XII for the second time in her career (along with another All-Midwest Region honor).  In the speed department, OF Shana White was also quite impressive this past season.  Another junior-to-be, White swiped 30 bases in just 43 games for the best SB/game average in the conference.  The only knock on both is their plate control, as they do not walk near as much as you would love speedsters to walk.  The Tigers have two others returning who may see time as a starter, with one being late-season hero Kathryn Poet.  The upcoming junior OF was a pinch hitter for a good part of the season, but started seeing action in the playoffs and certainly played a big role in the ultimate success of the team.  The other will be a senior in Julie Silver.  Silver, an OF, saw lots of time as a starter in her sophomore season in 2008, but came off the bench last year.

In the infield, I imagine we will see another upcoming junior in Marla Schweisberger end up at 1B, though she can play other spots in the field.  Schweisberger finished the season just shy of the .400 (.390) along with 8 HR's and 48 RBI's, and earned first-team All-Big XII honors and second-team All-American honors.  A slight uptick in power numbers will certainly help offset the senior losses.  Opposite her at 3B will likely be Gina Schneider, a senior on the 2010 squad.  Also owning 8 HR's, Schneider hit .321 and walked the second most on the team.  Another player with 8 HR's was future junior Megan Christopher at catcher.  Her batting average dropped as the season wore on, finishing at .260, but she had a season strong enough to earn second-team All-Big XII.  Rounding out the likely returning starters will be SS (and another future junior) Abby Vock.  Vock is a pretty light hitter (.198), but can steal a base (10) and was decent at the bottom of the lineup.   If the team decides they need Schweisberger in the outfield, we may see future sophomore Ashley Fleming at 1B.  Though she only hit around .230 in minimal appearances, she did smack 4 HR's and could be the heir to a power spot in the lineup. 

With Delaney departing, the Tigers are going to need to distribute those innings among their remaining three pitchers (as their recruiting class did not include a likely pitcher).  Future senior Jana Hainey has done everything and anything the team has ever asked her.  She is a spot starter who only went 7-0 with a 1.67 ERA on the season while recording one save as well.  She is an innings-eater in the case where a game is out of reach (one way or the other).  Someone who will likely see more innings this coming year will be future sophomore Kristen Nottelmann.  She actually led the team with a 1.25 ERA on her way to an 11-2 record, and a second-team All-Big XII honor.  She filled in quite well in the rotation when needed and should be expected to be the #2.  That just leaves #1, her classmate Chelsea Thomas.  Thomas was the ace of the squad coming down the stretch, though it was a bit of a strange season for her.  An injury in the out of conference season shelved her for a bit, and she did clearly run out of gas in the WCWS.  However, there is no questioning she is on her way to being one of the dominant pitchers in the league and country for years to come.  She went 16-7 with a 1.65 ERA and a league-leading .195 batting average against and 10 shutouts (tied for the lead). 

What kind of recruiting were the Tigers able to do?  Closing the class out back in December, the Tigers seemed to use the bump from their Super Regional team of 2008 to close a very impressive group of five.  MUTigers has plenty about them here, but here are my top stats about each one.

  • Rachel Hay is a 5'11 catcher.  That should be some good power down the road
  • Nicole Hudson was all-state all four seasons and owns the MO state record in HR's, RBI's and walks, while hitting just shy of .600 for her career.
  • Jenna Marston batted over .600 her last three years of school and did not strike out her last two seasons.
  • Lindsey Muller had a 0.38 ERA her senior season, even though she is not likely to pitch for Mizzou.
  • Ashley Ortega hit 9 triples in 66 AB's, had an OBP of .773 and slugged over 1.000 her senior season (all CO state records) while only striking out five times in over 100 travelling team games.  Oh yeah, and she was kind of an after-thought in recruiting, a late find if you will.
  • All had a high school GPA of 3.1 or higher.

Needless to say, plenty of talent coming on board, and scattered all over the field.  I imagine we will go after a pitcher or two in this next class, but there just was not a real need in this past one.  And, with back-to-back finishes inside the national top 16 (16th and 8th), it will be interesting to see how much further MU pushes their recruiting footprint this coming season.

From a lineup standpoint, what can we expect to see?  I would love to see both Taylor and White in the lineup, potentially in a 1-2 slot.  Those two combined stole more bases than six TEAMS in the league, and put a tremendous amount of pressure on a pitcher.  I would then expect either Poet or Schweisberger to occupy RF.  I only say Schweisberger because if one of the youngsters (either Fleming or perhaps one of the frosh) make it to where they have to see the field, you can put Schweisberger out there.  Schneider and Vock are likely to hold down the left side of the infield, with Christopher a rock behind the plate.  That will leave just second base, and I expect either Marston or Ortega (am leaning Ortega) to get the spot.  On the bump, well, I think we are pretty set there for awhile.  Can we expect to get back to the WCWS?  Probably not, but I definitely see this team being a national program all season long and another run in the Big XII and/or NCAA should not come as a surprise.  Welcome to the radar Mizzou!

An Annoucement:

After some thought about this, next week's edition of the Musings is going to be the last for....awhile.  From an "excuse" standpoint, I always struggle the most with these in the fall because of football and travelling on the weekends.  I am going to have a number of work weekends coming up in the next two months as well that will rob me of my spare time. I close on a house a week from in two weeks.  I start a new position in three weeks (a promotion within the same company).  My work recently blocked this site.  I have a deep burning sensation when set of excuses. 

Anyway, from a personal standpoint, it dawned on me that, at my root, I (still) do not identify myself as a "blogger".  I was always more of a "discussion" person.  I did these Musings to shed some light on sports which don't get a lot of light to begin with.  Yes, I did pepper in some of my own random thoughts as a means of driving some interest (especially because I had someone who would almost always respond to them).  However, I just spent the summer struggling to not only find time to write about Men's Indoor Track, but struggling to actually write about it as well.  And since the draw of writing to read my own stuff is minimal, it just makes no sense to keep going with it when there are other things I enjoy more out there.  I will still try to get some info on the board about soccer, gymnastics, wrestling and softball over time, but the week to week stuff is going to go away at this point.  So come on back next week for the final Reviewin' & Previewin' (and Musings), which will be about the Baseball team.