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Mizzou Softball: A Great Week of Wins

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The Tigers managed to avoid any pot holes in their schedule (and the rain drops in North Carolina) to rip off a bunch of good-looking wins

The Tigers stay on the road for four more games this week
The Tigers stay on the road for four more games this week
The Beef

{The Softball game against SMS scheduled for this afternoon in Springfield has been postponed}

The Beef:

Was quite the week for the Tigers, as they went 6-0 with mid-week wins against SEMO and then four wins out in NC State (and a credit to the tournament organizers who got around the weather to get the Tigers four games out of their scheduled five). The offense was on-fire, so you want to start there?

Switzy:

Right now, it's impossible to say too much about this offense. Just a couple weeks ago, we were lamenting the Notre Dame loss, in which the Tigers managed only 7 baserunners the whole game, and only 3 hits. They outdid their entire production from that game multiple times this past week in the span of a single inning. In the interest of space and time, I'll limit myself to pointing out three keys:

1. Kelsea Roth. Her average was mired in the .160s just a bit ago. Now she's hitting nearly .300, slugging nearly .600, and is regaining her power. Even if the turnaround doesn't continue to progress, she has earned every start status again. And watching her rebound to her 2013 levels is wonderful.

2. SEC speed. Mizzou was swiping bases like Willie Mays Hays this weekend, and is now up to a spectacular 51 successful steals (in 54 attempts) on the season. Three Tigers have double digit steals, sparked by Taylor Gadbois with her 18. Four Tigers - Gadbois, Crane, Genovese, and Fagan - have more steals on the season than the entirety of all Mizzou's opponents combined in games against Mizzou.

3. Power. In the first 13 games of the season, Mizzou hit 10 HR. In the last 9 games, they've hit 17. There are now, arguably, 4 legitimate power threats in the Mizzou lineup. There are a few other players capable of hitting one out. And they are doing it while still remaining a contact team - the Tigers only struck out 13 times total in the 4 weekend games.

You expressed skepticism not long ago about Coach Earleywine's claims of having maybe the best Mizzou offense he's had. Are you coming around at all? And did you note anything else that would qualify as key to the firepower we're seeing?

The Beef:

Certainly the offensive production of the past couple of weeks is as good of a stretch as I have seen from this program since I have been paying attention. NC State certainly has shown some power, so perhaps their park is a bit of a launching pad (the Tigers did give up a few bombs over the weekend), but what Mizzou did over the weekend was nothing short of impressive. To your point, the power numbers are most definitely coming around to where you have no choice but to see what Coach E was referencing in the pre-season.


As for my highlights, I dont see how official Switzy-favorite Emily Crane did not pull down a numbered bullet from you. With Gadbois having cooled off just a bit (though it would have been real tough for her to stay as hot as she was) and with her also fighting through a little bit of injury, Crane picked up her game in a big way and now has raised her average to .352. She has started to get the doubles game going again and her speed on the bases has really made it all the tougher to pitch to Sami Fagan and others.

I also love the play of Amanda Sanchez. Love to see the frosh holding down the hot corner defensively with only three errors, and now getting her average up over .300 with the power starting to materialize. As a true frosh, that is really exciting to think about her anchoring that side of the infield for most of the rest of the decade.

Finally, I love seeing Kayla Kingsley getting some time. The offensive numbers might not be there yet and she may only have one stolen base, but I think Coach E is able (and rightly so in my head) to rely on the offense from the rest of the team to allow her to get into the lineup and be a strong, defensive presence in the outfield. If the offense starts to come around for her (and for Angie Randazzo), the lineup becomes as complete a unit as we will have ever had.

Alright, the effusive praise aside, talk to me about any concerns from the past weekend? Certainly, the health of Tori Finucane's shoulder has to remain troubling and Paige Lowary is still sprinkling in some misses (Penn State and NC State starts) with all of her hits (the fact is she is still 9-0). Talk to us about the pitching and then move us over to the midweek action and what to expect from SMS.

Switzy:

One quick final bit of positivity. Alyssa Cousins, a senior backup catcher, hit her first collegiate HR over the weekend. That's pretty excellent stuff.

On to concerns. Right now, Mizzou has 7 spots in the lineup (and on the field) secure: Gadbois (CF), Crane (RF), Fagan (2B), Genovese (SS), Sanchez (3B), Mack (C), Roth (1B). That still leaves 2 spots - DP and LF - up for the taking. And there has to be some concern, albeit slight, that no one has really stepped up and claimed those spots. Each of the candidates has their ups and downs. You cover the game of Kayla Kinglsey quite well above. To quickly summarize the others...Angela Randazzo brings experience, but is hitting under .250 and doesn't play the field usually. Natalie Fleming has the best average of the bunch, but seemingly can't find her power and doesn't have the speed. Morgan Walters has struggled at the plate. The Tigers could use one of these ladies to step up and grab hold of that #9 position, and sure up the lineup in tandem with Kingsley's solid defense.

In the circle, the Tigers were not as sharp as one might have hoped this weekend. Certainly I agree that injury concerns are there, but I'm optimistic that they aren't going to be long-term problems. Tori Finucane stumbled a bit against Fordham in the weekend's opening game, but pitched well otherwise. She pitched 12 and 1/3 innings, and managed a wonderful 2/16 BB/K ratio; giving up free baserunners was a big part of her stumbles earlier in the year, so that bodes well. Paige Lowary had a great 10 strikeout performance against Lipscomb, but fell victim to the illegal pitch in the NC State game, and was pulled. And finally, over the weekend, Cheyenne Baxter tossed 5 more relief innings, although in low leverage situations for the most part.

So with the Tiger recap finished, here's the mid-week matchup. Mizzou heads for Springfield to face Missouri State later today. If Dave Steckel is in the stands, that's worth at least a run for the Bears, I assume. State is 12-13 on the season, and has faced a few tough programs. They dropped a close 2-1 game to A&M in College Station earlier this year, were shutout 5-0 by Louisiana-Lafayette (they're a top 10 program right now, folks), and got clobbered twice in 5-inning run rule games against Oklahoma. They also have a 15-14 win over UMKC, which is just an interesting score. Bears put up 6 in the bottom of the 7th to win it. Moving on.

Assuming we see the Bears' ace, that'll be Chelsea Jones, who carries a respectable 2.79 ERA. However, she's allowing a .271 average against and doesn't really strike people out much. Worth noting: Missouri State has four pitchers, all of whom have started at least 2 games. So it's kind of tough to say who the Tigers will face. At the plate, the Bears don't have much to write home about. Only 1 batter (Rebecca McPherson) is hitting over .300, and only McPherson and the spectacularly named Chelsea Thomas are power threats, with 5 and 8 homers respectively. I assume Paige Lowary will get the chance to make up for her problematic NC State appearance, and the Tigers ought to win this one pretty easily.

Now that people have tl;dr'd my rambling, what's on tap for the weekend, Beef?

The Beef:

Great thought on Cousins. Certainly well deserved.

On to the weekend where the Tigers continue this ridiculous stretch of games away from home with a trip down to face #XX Tennessee. Unlike the first SEC series of the year, this one will be the standard Fri-Sun schedule with the game on Friday night (5:30pm) appearing on SECN+ and the game Saturday night (7:30pm) appearing on SECN (with a Sunday/get-away start time of 12:30pm).  The Volunteers are 19-5 (1-2) on the season coming off a road series loss to South Carolina. That series was a bit all over the place, with each team run-ruling one another to bookend a 7-6, extra inning win by USC. The Volunteers scored 15 runs for the weekend, but gave up 16 in losing two of three.

At the plate, junior Gretchen Aucoin (a Texas Tech transfer) is doing it all for Tenn. She is batting .483 and slugging over .900 with 4 HR’s, though in only 15 games so far this season. Tenn has good power, with 41 HR’s as a team, with sophomore Taylor Koenig owning 10 of them (along with a .349 batting average).  All told, six Tenn players have 4 HR’s or more on the season, so the power is widespread. The speed is decent, as no Volunteer has been retired on the base-paths in 29 SB attempts. They are a free-swinging team, striking out 135 times to 96 BB’s.  The defense appears to be OK with a .965 fielding percentage on 21 errors, which have only led to six unearned runs (Mizzou has given up 19 by contrast). In the circle, junior Erin Gabriel is one of the two pitchers to take over for the departed Ellen Renfroe, and she is currently 9-2 with a 2.06 ERA in 11 starts. Aucoin also has 11 starts, sporting a 7-2 record with a 2.51 ERA. Each pitcher is good for just over 1 K per inning, and while Aucoin has done a better job of keeping the ball down (only 8 XBH in 44+ innings to Gabriel’s 15 in 54+ innings), Gabriel has the better control (11 BB’s to 25 from Aucoin).

How has their schedule looked so far this year Switz? And you ready to throw down on some predictions? You nailed the first SEC weekend pretty good…

Switzy:

Tennessee's schedule has been good. They faced Notre Dame, Florida St., Cal, and Nebraska in the Mary Nutter Classic, getting nice wins against ND and FSU. And their loss to Cal was a "good" loss, by a 1-0 score. They also played the same Fordham team Mizzou beat 7-5 this weekend, but Tennessee won 5-0 (caveat: their game was a full month before Mizzou's). They also went on an impressive streak of 5 consecutive 5-inning run-rule victories the weekend before last.

Of course, I was personally surprised to see Tennessee falter against SC this weekend after how well Mizzou handled that team. We all know by now, though, that the transitive property does not apply to sports. Given the quality bats in the Tennessee lineup and their two pitching stars, I can't help but see these teams as well matched. In fact, I would call the series a tossup. Tennesse gets the home advantage, but Mizzou must surely be used to living in hotels by now. So I'm going to give Mizzou the 2-1 series victory, with Finucane/Lowary using the strikeout pitches to their advantage and the Mizzou bats continuing to flash. I look forward to seeing who stars for the Tigers this weekend.

The Beef:

I’ve got nothing else to add because I think a 2-1 series win feels pretty good considering Finucane should hopefully be fresh and Paige has bounced back nicely from bad starts with good ones. Have to like the confidence of the offense against the pitching of Tenn, so we will see how it goes.