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2014 Mizzou Softball: Checking in at the halfway point

29 games down, 27 to go. How are the Tigers looking, and what can you expect in the coming months?

Before their twin-bill later this afternoon in St. Charles (where I hope to be able to attend for a little while and bring back a new and expansive cache of pictures), the Tigers have basically hit the halfway point on the regular season. They currently sit 22-7 with 27 scheduled (more on that later) games to come. How have we done? How are we going to do moving forward? Let's take a look...

What Have I Said Already?

What Others are Saying?

What do the Stats Say? (The Starters)

Man alive, has Taylor Gadbois been a revelation or what?

- The Beef

Started out my last post about the team with that thought, and I simply cannot improve upon it. The RS soph (that's right kids, two more years of this hopefully) continues to perform at the highest level and has to be one of the biggest surprises in the conference. She is leading the team in hits (44), runs (28), average (.473), OBP (.524) and stolen bases (25 of 28). Just behind her is soph (insert another smiley face) Emily Crane who is hitting .433 with 39 hits, 20 runs, 28 RBI's, OBP of .480 and 11 stolen bases, all good enough for second on the team. She also happens to lead the team in doubles (7), total bases (55) and slugging (.611), while remaining perfect in the field. She also has only struck out four times in 90 AB's.

On the power front, the Tigers are doing OK, though I think we will come in a bit below where I was hoping (three to four people right around double digit totals). Senior Mackenzie Sykes leads the team with five HR's and 30 RBI's and is second in doubles with five, hitting .274. Additional pop is coming from a couple of juniors, as Kelsea Roth and Angie Randazzo each have four. Roth has improved from a slow start to bring her average up to .297 and she leads the team in walks with 17 (also in K's with 12). Strangely, she has only 10 RBI's, but more impressively, the first basemen has no errors on the season. As for Randazzo, she remains a fixture in the middle of the lineup, now hitting .347 with rock-solid eye at the plate (15 BB's to only 5 K's). She is second on the team in slugging at .583 and sports the team's only triple on the year.

The last of the everyday starters is RS soph Sami Fagan, who has been very solid with a .360 batting average and 22 RBI's. The power is not quite there as I was hoping it might be (just one HR), but she is certainly helping to keep the pressure on the defense with her eight SB's (Gadbois, Crane and Fagan combine for 44 SB's in 49 attempts). She has struggled a bit on defense in the infield with a team-leading six errors, but she is certainly an indispensable part of our lineup. Also seeing the majority of the time has been frosh Kirsten Mack, who has been digging out of an early-season slump and is now up to .241 with a couple of HR's. Also working out of a REALLY slow start is frosh Casey Stangel, who has a couple of HR's as well, and is now at least over the Mendoza line at .203.

What do the Stats Say? (The Bench)

So, above is only a list of eight starters. With Stangel batting in most games, regardless of whether she pitches or not, we have a couple of different lineups. Also, we've had a couple of people step up their games and/or fill roles they have not previously filled. Stepping up would be RS soph Ashtin Stephens, who has played a good amount of very solid infield with only two errors, but is also hitting .333 in 39 AB's.

Someone else starting to step up is frosh Natalie Fleming, who is just now seeing some additional time after missing a number of early games. She is hitting .368 in limited at bats, but does have a HR and a double in there. Taking on a bit of a new role this year would be junior Corrin Genovese, who has only started 14 games this year, though she has seen action in 26. Her bat is still decent at .294, but her glove has been very useful as she often replaces Randazzo in later innings. Backing up Mack at catcher has been RS soph Carly Rose, who has a dinger and a couple of SB's.

Also seeing a lot of pinch running chances are frosh Kelli Schkade, who did not hit will in her six starts, but who has five SB's. Sophomore Sarah Moore has seen action in 20 games, but the hitting is still not clicking for the outfielder, who is at .105 with one HR.

A Note About Lineup Composition

I have mentioned 14 position players in the paragraphs above. There is ONE senior in that group (Sykes) and only three juniors (Roth, Randazzo and Genovese). Kayla Kingsley is the fourth junior on the roster, though hopefully her return next year opens up the chance for a medical RS year (meaning she will still have two seasons remaining and could potentially replace Sykes in the OF). That is 15 people mentioned, 14 of which may be back next season, and as many as 11 back in two seasons. This team is doing well thus far, but boy howdy it is young (and will infuse SIX more frosh next year as seen HERE) And we've not even talked about the circle

What do the Stats Say? (The Circle)

They have had their ups and downs (rises and drops if you will), but the two main pitchers seem to be settling in a bit more and showing what sort of potential this team could have this season and beyond. Leading the way is frosh Tori Finucane, who has 13 starts and a 9-3 record. Her ERA is a team-best 1.86, as she has allowed 73 hits in 82.2 innings with 27 runs (22 earned). Her K:BB ratio is solid at 70:27 (so around 2.6:1), and her K's have picked up in recent weeks (including 9 K's against a solid Okie State team). Tori has wins against RPI #8 Arizona, #12 aTm and #18 Kentucky while pitching pretty decently against #6 UCLA and #10 Baylor, so she is quickly getting some very necessary experience.

Stangel is also gaining time in the circle. She has 12 starts on the year and a 10-4 record (thanks to the fact she actually has more appearances (18) than Finucane (15). Stangel's ERA has come down a bit the past few weeks, now sitting at 2.12 with 73 hits over 79.1 innings. The defense has betrayed her a bit more, with 10 of her 34 surrendered runs coming unearned. She also has given up 27 walks on the year, but only 40 K's means she has pitched a bit more to contact (and thus, could be why she has a few more unearned runs).

Finally, senior Alora Marble has four starts and a 3-0 ERA with a 2.92 ERA. Marble has received some time in mid-week games and will likely continue that as the season goes. She has given up 22 hits in 26.1 innings, with 11 runs (strangely, all earned) with seven walks and 11 K's. Her opponent batting average is actually the lowest on the team at .224 (.236 for Tori and .239 for Casey).

Before we move on....a note/thought about Stangel:

Earlier in the season (and probably all of maybe a few weeks ago), there was some internet discussion I read about the possibility of removing Stangel from the batting lineup. Certainly her below-.200 average played into this, but I think it was also out of the idea that she will be worth more to us if she was focused in the circle this year and that we need to have her as a strong #2 over what her bat was providing. Now, obviously I am on record in thinking that her bat would be huge before the season started, and it may certainly be before all is said and done.

In looking at the roster for next season, along with the incoming recruits, I cannot help but be curious to see how Paige Lowary will play into the rotation. She is a lefty (as is Stangel) and while she appears to be able to swing the bat at the high school level, I dont believe she will enter college with the batting accolades which Stangel did just a year ago. Could Lowary potentially replace Stangel as the #2, moving her to the #3 (replacing Marble) and allowing her to spend more time next year focused at the plate (especially to help replace the power of Sykes)? It is something I will be keeping an eye on.

What Does the Schedule Say?

So far (and mind you, this is only six games into the conference season), Mizzou has played 13 (of 29) games against teams with a ranking currently at 40 or better in the first RPI release of the season. Their OOC has been solid, balancing some teams further down the list with some at the top, resulting in an average RPI ranking of our OOC schedule (thus far) of 78. And while wins have been nice over Arizona and others, it may be the losses which have been almost more telling. In those seven defeats, the Tigers have lost by a total of 15 runs, but SIX of those game were one-run game (an 11-2 (5) loss against aTm is the ugly duckling). The average RPI of our opponents in those losses? 12.

This team is REALLY pretty close to being even better than 11th in the RPI.

What Does the REST of the Schedule Say?

Earlier, I referenced Gadbois as potentially one of the biggest surprises in the conference. Want to know what might be bigger? I dare do it because of the well-known RMN jinx, but it does deserve to be mentioned. The team has not lost a single game to inclement weather so far. By this point last season, we had already lost 10 games to the elements (and would lose four more). Strangely, that probably played to our advantage last year, keeping the wear and tear off Chelsea Thomas as best we could. But this year, with so much youth on the squad, it has been very important to get all these games and the program has been both lucky and forward-thinking in terms of making that happen.

There are still some games to be contended OOC, starting with two against #61 Illinois later this afternoon. There are seven more after that, with pairs against Western Illinois (98), Iowa (102) and Creighton (86), and a single game against SMS (94) to round it out. In conference, however, is an entirely different story.

We are scheduled to play 24 total conference games (against eight different teams, and have played six of those already). The average RPI for each game played in conference currently is 19.5. Hell, I was about to point out that we miss #18 LSU and #24 Tennessee, but their combined inclusion might only raise that number. We have nine total games against #1 UGA, #2 Alabama and #3 Florida all still remaining. A bright spot (if there is one) is that six of the nine are at home (we are at Florida).

That is simply murderous, but once this team gets into the NCAA's (and they certainly should do that barring a total collapse), you cannot say that anyone should scare them. They will have already faced most of the best in the country. Thanks SEC!