Thanks to a buddy of mine who was texting me from the game last night, I got a decent feeling for how the Tigers did while I was sitting at my local watering hole. This certainly was helpful in the first five innings of the game when things were not going so well (that, and being married to the bartender) Before I attack a day of TWO weddings, I figured I would take a peek at what the Tigers had in store today when facing the Illini.
The funny thing was, when looking at this bracket on Monday of this past week, I really thought Mizzou was in one of the more loaded regions, perhaps the most loaded. Creighton would certainly present us with what I thought would be one of the best pitchers we had faced all season in Oltman. Depaul still had Becca Heteniak on the bump, who is as good as any in the nation. And the Illini had a lineup featuring 3 people batting over .400 and two very strong (and young) pitchers. If Mizzou fans thought we were screwed last season when we got to host a regional, but were not the #1 seed in it (and we were screwed, no doubt about it), then I dont think the committee did us any real favors this year either. Mizzou handed the Blue Jays just their second loss in 110 games when they have led after 6 innings, and the Illini came back on Depaul, winning 4-2. Let's take a quick look at that game before we get into what to expect for the noon first-pitch today.
(all stats were coming into last night's games)
For the short time I followed the Depaul/Illinois game yesterday, Heteniak had it going on. She had only allowed one hit through the first three innings, and Depaul had staked her to a 2-0 lead against sophomore Monica Perry. The Demons scored 2 in the third after a leadoff error was compounded by a stolen base sandwiched between a couple of singles. But in the 4th, the Illini managed to score three runs on just one hit, a two-out, back-breaking triple after a walk and a HBP, where Ashley Conrad, a .232 hitter, actually scored via error on her own triple. From there, the Illini would add one more run against a relief pitcher in the 5th on another HBP, an illegal pitch, a single and a SAC fly. And while I just accounted for all four runs for the Illini, I also just accounted for all three hits they earned as well.
Illinois's lineup is a tad on the unbalanced side, as they have three hitting over .400 (Hackett, Zymkowitz and Howell), but only four total people over .300. They have only 10 players who have more than 20 AB's this season (Mizzou has 18). They have decent power numbers (57 HR's to MU's 58) and do score a hair more per game than the Tigers (6.96 to 6.33). Zymkowitz is their speed merchant (35 SB's out of the team's 54, Mizzou has 115) and they are solid in the field with a .965 fielding average (Mizzou at .967).
On the hill, I expect they will likely come back today with freshman Pepper Gay. Hailing from Atlanta, Gay has been really good for the Illini, sporting a 16-1 record in 17 starts. She has one strikeout per inning exactly (105 innings), but is a little wild (49 walks) and does give up SOME hits (86). However, many of those hits are not translating to runs, as she sports an ERA of 1.53 (best on the squad).
In the end, this is a pretty experienced Illini squad who may find themselves behind a freshman pitcher. Illinois has been there before (as they have the strange makeup of only one senior (Howell) in their starting nine, but only one freshman (Gay) out there today). Mizzou got off to such a slow start last night, and I am not sure they can afford to walk that fine line again today. Freshman are funny (as the Tigers saw with All-Everything Luna down at UT). Get to them early, and many may not have the maturity to fight through it. This Tiger team has certainly been there before, but will need to get out early on Illinois. For both team, who really only have two pitchers, this game is SO important because the winner simply gets to rest everyone until tomorrow, while the loser is looking at an additional game later today, and then two to win it back tomorrow.