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Mizzou Softball: Tigers Take on Tigers in SEC Tourney

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#3 seeded Mizzou faces off against #6 LSU on Thursday morning at 10:00 a.m. central on ESPNU. Switzy is back to help break down the game and look back at the Alabama series as well.

The Beef

Before we get to the reviewin' and previewin', let's set the scene for this morning's game with some helpful links:

The Beef: Alright, before we get into discussing the SEC Tournament (which kicked off on last night with Auburn beating South Carolina and Kentucky taking down Mississippi State), let’s spend a little bit of time rehashing the weekend.

Big crowds, pretty close games, national TV exposure, and the Tigers unfortunately fell in two out of three matchups against Alabama. What were your take-aways from the weekend?

switzy227: It was great for this young squad to get that big crowd experience and those national broadcasts. I think in the long term that's going to benefit some of the ladies - after all, they'll be on TV a lot more next season with the advent of the SEC Network.

That said, the series as a whole was disappointing. After crushing 10 hits against all-world pitcher Jackie Traina, the Tiger hitters only managed 9 more hits in 2 games against the 2nd and 3rd Alabama pitchers. If you have been following Mizzou softball for a little while, you probably had - as I did - a little bit of deja vu. After all, disappearing bats has been the end-of-season theme for Mizzou softball for a number of years now. The Tigers managed 2 runs in 2 games (both losses) in the 2010 WCWS, couldn't plate a single run in 13 innings against Baylor in 2011's final loss, and lost back-to-back games to Washington in the 2013 super regional by a combined score of 3-1. Here's to hoping that the final two games against Bama were just a blip.

Probably the bigger problem to take away is defense. The Tigers have struggled all season with errors, and this series may have exemplified those struggles. In the two losses - 6 errors, 5 runs allowed, ZERO earned runs allowed. The further we get into the season, the less separates one team from another. There are a lot of talented squads left to come, and if the Tigers continue to show badly in the field, that might be the difference that keeps them from progressing to the level of the offensive and pitching talent on the roster.

The Beef: You bring up a great point with defense, and I will take it a step further. As I assume we are about to, relying upon Tori more and more means we need to do everything to keep that pitch count down. Even if an error does not lead to runs, it can and will extend innings and pitch counts. When we may go as far as her arm takes us this post-season, those extra pitches will add up over time.

So, before we turn our attention to LSU, care to discuss your thoughts on Coach E pitching Tori Friday night, only to remove her from the game tied at 1-1 at top of the 7th?

switzy227: In the preseason, and early in the year, Earleywine talked about how Finucane and Stengal could be 1a and 1b, and how their different styles of pitching might lead to some gamesmanship like the Friday night switch. It's pretty evident that their pitching prowess this season has not met those standards - Finucane has been better than expected, Stangel has fared worse. However, I don't think that Coach has quite gotten over the idea that he might be able to rotate the two in order to keep hitters off-kilter. It didn't work.

The Beef: Alright, let's move ahead to the matchup this morning (10:00 a.m. CT, ESPNU) against LSU. The Tigers came through the SEC in 6th place (13-11) and are currently ranked 20th in the latest RPI and 23rd in the ESPN poll. And before you get into talking about them, allow me to throw out a somewhat strange stat. LSU did not get up a triple this season. Top that!

switzy227: Well, given that Mizzou has 8 legitimate triples and 1 that ought to be credited to the scorer of Thursday night's game (sorry, Corrin Genovese...), I doubt we see that streak broken in this upcoming matchup.

What bodes well for Mizzou is that LSU is a much less dominating opponent than the last two SEC teams on the schedule. At the plate, LSU is formidable, carrying a team .314 batting average. Look out for A.J. Andrews (.343, 35 steals), Savhanna Jaquish (.331, 13 HR), and Bianka Bell (.327, 11 HR) to lead the way for LSU.

The twist is that they don't have any truly dominant hitters - "just" a bunch of .300-.340 averages up and down the scorecard. Their power numbers are very similar to Missouri's (50 homers to our 48), which is a nice way of saying they aren't likely to go bombs away against us. In the interest of caution, though, their power is more concentrated. Missouri's 48 #bombcity shots have come from a whopping 12 different women, with no one having more than Mackensie Sykes' 8. LSU boasts only 9 HR hitters, and 80% of their homeruns come from only 4 of their hitters.

The Bayou Tigers do like to steal, almost as much as Mizzou, and they feature elite speed. Here's the stat to top yours, Beef - LSU has grounded into 0 double plays this year. (They have lined into some, though.)

In the circle, though, is where Mizzou catches a real break. Instead of Hannah Rogers and Jackie Traina, they'll be facing off with Baylee Corbello. No offense to her, but her 2.60 ERA is a far cry from what we've been seeing lately (and 9/10 of a run higher than Tori Finucane's). If the Mizzou hitters can stay patient, they should be able to generate a lot of baserunners and opportunities to put up runs. Corbello has issued a whopping 123 walks in 167 innings this year along with 24 HBP. Those are....less than ideal secondary numbers for a number 1 pitcher.

Missouri should be able to win this game, all things being equal. What would really be nice is if they could do so with some authority and give the team a boost of confidence going into the later rounds of the tournament.

The Beef: Corbello is also a frosh, while Ashley Czechner (12-12 3.62 in 24 starts) is a senior. While her walk rate (71 in 145 innings) is down from where Corbello's resided, she has hit 23 batters in 22 fewer innings. On the season (353.1 innings), LSU has walked 228 and hit another 53. That is going to put a hurting on your functional WHIP before you have even given up a hit. And yes, I just created functional WHIP to include HBP solely for the purpose of this post.

OK, in the interest of time, let's assume the Tigers can get past LSU on Thursday morning and would move on to a Friday battle against #2 seeded Tennessee, who are slated to play Kentucky at 1:30 p.m. CT. Tell us a little about the Vols and what we might expect in a Friday afternoon showdown (3:00 p.m. ESPNU).

switzy227: Tennessee is really good. They are 15th in team BA, 5th in team HR/game, 4th in team OBP, and 38th in team ERA - all marks that best Missouri's numbers. Madison Shipman is the SEC POY and an outright beast - .434 with 17 HR, 50 RBI, and a 38/8 BB/K ratio. And 12 stolen bases in 15 attempts. 7 other regulars hit .300 or better for Tennessee, and 4 other regulars have at least 6 HR on the season. And in the circle, there's Ellen Renfroe (assuming every team is going to throw their best pitcher every game). 2.11 ERA, 26-5 record, 214 strikeouts to only 57 walks. But...Missouri actually out RPIs Tennessee (9th vs. 13th). So we've got that going for us...

The Beef: Will be very interesting to see how coaches manage beyond their #1 starter. Will Tennessee try to get some innings from someone else against KY, even though they did drop one of three to the Wildcats this year?  Renfroe of TN pitched both of those wins, but actually gave up 5 earned runs between the two.  And the rest of the "staff" took at 5-2 loss to the Cats in the other game.

Finally, let's start to look ahead to the NCAA Selection, which will air this coming Sunday. In his latest piece on ESPNW, Graham Hays predicts that Mizzou would land at a #6 overall seed, insuring them as a home site for the Super Regional round (should they advance out of the Regional round). Does this come as a surprise to you? Currently, we are #9 in the RPI and around 14-15 in the national polls.

How many wins this weekend do you think Mizzou needs to secure a spot like this?  Also, any thoughts on Hays' take on Coach E's reaction to the Alabama celebration from this past weekend (and other, shall we say, Tremendous Stubble foibles)?

switzy227: Pitching "rotations" this time of year are always interesting. Coaches sometimes gamble a little, and their decisions to go with a #2 pitcher or use an early hook on a #1 can be motivation for both teams. There's definitely a degree of chess involved.

I would be very surprised to see Mizzou as high as a #6 without doing some damage this weekend. I think if we win the tourney, that would justify it for sure. But anything less, well, wouldn't. Missouri has the most losses of any other top 14 RPI squad, and three bad losses (2 to RPI 101 Iowa and 1 to RPI 64 Illinois) that are going to hurt. That said, Hays clearly has access to more data (or researchers, at least) than I do. Mizzou is 5-5 against the top 4 RPI teams, and has another 5 wins against teams 11-20 - all of which could be more impressive depending on the records of other top teams against those same tiers. History does show that the human polls do not very accurately reflect final seeding, so I suppose there's not much to do but see what happens this weekend. Most likely scenario - Mizzou is seeded in the 8-10 range.

As for his take on Stubble, well, he might be a "joyless misanthrope" but he's OUR joyless misanthrope. It seems to be pretty widely accepted (on RMN) that his proclivity to avoid coach speak is a charm and his businesslike demeanor is an asset (at least insofar as it keeps asinine dugout cheers from being a part of Missouri softball). Whether his colleagues find him fun or have "personal affection" for him is pretty irrelevant to how I view him as a coach. He attracts great softball talent and has built a legitimate top 10-15 national program. Did he overreact to Alabama's celebration? Absolutely. That motivates his team, and I wouldn't have it any other way.