In what will likely become the standard week for the Fightin’ Earleywine’s, the Tigers had a mid-week double-header before heading out on the road for a three-pack of games against their conference opponent of the week. Consider the Tigers 1-1 in taking down these weeks, as the Tigers swept Evansville at home before REALLY sweeping Ol’ Miss on the road in sunny Oxford. The Tigers took two of those three in run-rule efforts, and only gave up five runs for the slate of games. In a week where the Tigers go 5-0, is it possible to find faults? If you tighten the view down to a pretty small level, it might be. Let’s keep it macro for a moment before refining the view to find those areas of opportunity.
Q # 1 - Keeping it macro, what was there to love about the week that was? Two no-hitters? Run-rule games? Only two errors? All of the above? Anything else?
CPC - The two no hitters were what made me most happy this week. Nicole Hudson was able to get some innings and show that she’s a viable option as #2 pitcher. Also, she gets a cup of coffee for her 7th inning in the 2nd game against Evansville by stomping out any hopes the Purple Aces might have had at upsetting the Tigers (1-3 ground out, K, K).
Getting back to the macro, opponents hit .152 against Mizzou pitching, striking out 36 times in 31 innings this week. Against Ole Miss specifically, Tigers pitching allowed only 1 run on 7 hits in 17 innings. Just a fantastic week from a pitching standpoint.
From a defensive standpoint, it was great to be able to see the Stubblemeister completely change the lineup up between games against Evansville. It gave some players a chance to play out of their normal position and a chance for players to play that maybe aren’t at the top of the depth chart for their position.
Finally, I was happy to see both games on Wednesday go to 7 innings. Yes, it’s nice to run-rule our opponents, but right now, Missouri is so far behind other teams in games played, it’s almost funny. Going the distance was nice to get some more innings under their belts and give them some more experience in close-game situations, which the 2nd game certainly was. We’re in for a wild ride in the SEC and gaining those attributes are going to be extremely beneficial.
The Beef - First off, I don’t think any of us have the right to refer to him as The Stubblemeister.
For me, I loved seeing the continued maturation of freshman Emily Crane at the leadoff spot. She hit over .500 on the week, hit doubles all over the yard and has pushed her season batting average to .365. With 8 doubles, she has twice as many as anyone else on the team. Where Rhea Taylor used to beat out an infield hit and steal 2nd base for her double, Crane just decides it is easier to lead off games with the two-bagger. As long as she is standing on 2nd base with no outs, she is putting a heck of a lot of pressure on the opposing pitcher.
I also like seeing Angie Randazzo coming through with some clutch hits and lots of RBI’s. Nine on the weekend has pushed her out to 18 on the year, second only to Hudson’s 21. With Roth accounting for 17 on her own, the Tigers have three folks who are driving in most of the runs (just over half at 56 of 105). But for Randazzo, where she only has 2 HR’s (to the combined 15 of Hudson and Roth), getting the hits at key times is driving her total. Now batting almost .300, she could become someone all the more deadly if teams decide they need to try to pitch around both Hudson and Roth.
As for Hudson, she is a battler out there, but I will stop short of calling her a viable option as the #2. Not to belabor the point, but a viable #2 has to be someone who the staff would be comfortable in going to in the big series. And so while Nicole gritted out the win against Evansville and got some nice innings this weekend, when you see Coach E say that Thomas could be available for all three games against the likes of aTm, that says Hudson is not quite there as a starter. But at this rate, and in a week like this (and in the one to come at least), getting this type of production from her is just about perfect.
CPC - She's a viable option at #2 as we have nobody else (with the exception of Lindsey Muller getting hot) that can be there. She's not the ideal #2, if one were building a softball team...just what we have available.
Q #2 - Getting a little micro for a moment, how did you like the management of the pitching for the week? How about the mid-week offensive performance of the Tigers against a sub-.500 program?
CPC - I was very happy with how Coach E. handled his pitching. Thomas played all 7 innings in the first half of the doubleheader and Hudson did the same in the other half. If I had any complaint, I would like to have seen Muller come in at some point during the first game, but it was a close game, so not a big deal. Thomas did get a quick yank on Friday, after 2 ½ innings and with a 6-0 lead, which is exactly what I hoped for. No reason to continue to work her when you’re up that much. Hudson did, however, get the win on Friday night, having pitched 3 innings. Thomas went for 3 innings on Sunday, so she got that win. Speaking of Sunday, it was nice to have Muller out there getting some work in.
The hitting on Wednesday for the first 11 innings (6 in Game 1 and the first 5 of game 2) was concerning. Unofficially, they were batting 9/42 (.214) with 8 strikeouts and 1 walk. In the 6th, they turned it up a notch, going 3 for 5 with 2 RBI and 2 walks (the third run was scored on an error.) So, I’d write this one off as “playing down to the competition”, which they certainly did not do against Ole Miss this weekend. Against the Rebels, the Tigers went 27/80 (.338) with 15 extra base hits and 27 RBI. I wonder what Coach E. said to the team Thursday on the bus ride down?
The Beef - You and I had discussed the Thomas effect on the hitting early in the season as it once pertained to Bailey Erwin. We both talked about how the team seemed to be more adept at scoring runs in support of Erwin because they “knew” that their scoring any more than two or three for Thomas all but guaranteed the win. While that was true in the first game on Wednesday (only a late, solo shot kept Chelsea from the shutout), it was barely so in the night cap, and only after a late rally. We might (or at least I might) see Hudson as a more viable option at #2 if the team was deciding to score run for her like they did for Thomas to start Friday and Sunday.
I am always excited to see Muller out there, just because it means we are saving the wear and tear on someone’s arm. It is likely a pipe dream, but I would love to see Muller used in the 2nd game of a mid-week double-header (with Hudson in game one) in weeks leading up to the big SEC series. Play SMS twice before getting to Alabama? Throw Muller. Play Western Illinois twice before getting Tenn? Throw Muller. The week where we have Iowa followed by LSU may be a little tougher, but I would be fine with Thomas getting the mid-week off at times. Thankfully, the Alabama, LSU and Tenn weekend series never come back to back, meaning we will play someone else in between to where maybe Chelsea does not have to throw all three.
Looking ahead, the Tigers were supposed to have a fun double-header at Lindenwood University (in FABULOUS St. Charles, MO) on Wednesday afternoon against Illinois in the softball version of Braggin’ Rights. But alas, Mother Nature intervened yet again and now all we have to look forward to for thde week is a home three-play against Georgia Tech (double-header on Sat and one on Sunday). The Yellow Jackets (former home of Coach E) are 13-13 (with three games to come midweek against SIU-E and SEMO as they tour the midwest). They have taken on five ranked team (including Florida) and are 0-5 against them.
Q #3 - So in a week where the competition is a little lacking both in schedule strength and number of games thanks to weather wiping out the Illinois double header, what do you do this weekend with pitching? Thomas and Hudson on Saturday, but then what? And tell me how much the lack of midweek games annoy you.
CPC - Yeah, Thomas and Hudson on Saturday and depending on how that goes, maybe let Chelsea have a couple of innings again on Sunday. Without destroying it, I’d like to see her pitch back-to-back days just to get her arm used to it. But if she pitches on Sunday, only for 2 or 3 innings.
It’s not so much the lack of midweek games that annoy me, it’s just everything getting rained out. I understand there’s logistics involved, but this is the 2nd trip that we didn’t even take because the games were cancelled so far ahead of time. I’d feel better if we at least made the trip and tried to get a game in. Additionally, it would be nice if when these games are contracted, if there was a fall back plan in place in case of weather. I know, I’m nitpicking a little bit, but it’s getting a bit frustrating looking at how baron our schedule has been for the first 5 weeks and how jam-packed it’s going to be moving forward.
April 9th, 10th and/or 11th are looking like prime dates to schedule something and I’ve been told by a reliable source that they may be looking to schedule some Tuesday games. And all of this is being discussed when weather may still be an issue going forward. This weekend is looking okay...so far...but, as those of us in Missouri know, that can change.
The Beef - I don’t know how to break this to you, but there is no contingency plan for Softball. No one has backup fields or other options on which to play. Yes, we have played games in Devine, but they have never been games of any significant value (either fall exhibition or against very small schools). Obviously, it is not an option which has been used recently, so we have to face facts. Softball is an outdoor sport, and it rains (and sometimes snows) outside. Each year in Missouri is a crap shoot at this time of the season, and we’ve been hit hard this year. Will it cause the coaches and administration to review our scheduling policy? Sure, but I imagine they do that each year anyway. And while games on the 9th, 10th and/or 11th is fine, it really does not pack the schedule all that much more. Pretty much all weeks from here on our feature two games in the middle of the week and three on the weekend. If they go beyond that and start to schedule double-headers on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, then yes...that will be packed.
As for the weekend, I don’t have a problem with Chelsea pitching two out of the three games in full if it comes to that. I think Coach E has shown he will go to the pen when he can, but he’s been doing that for years. Honestly, I would almost rather see a little bit more of Muller to where MAYBE she becomes a little more viable as a third option. However, I don’t get the feeling she will end up being used that extensively, so it will still fall on Hudson and Thomas for the rest of year.