Not a great weekend for the Tigers, as the weather takes two games away from them, the pitching was not sharp, taking another (and almost a second game) away from them, and an injury of some sort took Taylor Gadbois out of the starting lineup for the last two games of the weekend. All told, it means the Tigers came through the weekend 2-1, falling to #23 Notre Dame (despite a late rally) 3-2 before knocking off Penn State 11-7 (in eight innings) where they came back from a 5-0 deficit and also beating Maryland 5-1 before getting back home to MO. What were your overall thoughts?
I would quibble a bit with your description of the pitching. I don't think pitching is what lost the Notre Dame game - Mizzou finished that game with a grand total of 7 baserunners, via 3 hits and 4 walks. That's not going to cut it.
That is not to say, however, that there aren't some concerns about the pitching. Tori Finucane did give up 6 hits and 3 earned runs against ND, in only 4 innings. And then, for whatever reason, she was pulled in the Maryland game after 3 innings (although she came back in to record all three outs (via strikeout) in the 7th. Her line in that game was much improved - 2 hits and 1 walk in the 4 innings she pitched. Meanwhile, Paige Lowary got shelled against a weak-hitting Penn St. team, giving up 10 hits, 4 walks, and 7 runs in 6.2 innings. Hopefully, Tori is just finding her early season groove, and Paige's performance was simply a freshman moment. While we wait on results from future weekends, let's be REALLY thankful for Cheyenne Baxter who pitched 7.1 innings in relief, appearing in each of the 3 games this weekend, and gave up exactly 1 run. She has proven a rock solid #3, much needed so far this season for Mizzou.
I'll be shorter on the hitting side: improvement needed. I will not be surprised to see some more regular/permanent changes to the lineup by Earleywine going into SEC play this weekend. Kelsea Roth is having a terrible year so far, no one is hitting for power, and if Gadbois remains sidelined...that's a problem.
Good news is, there are still plenty of players doing well, and defense was actually quite solid this weekend - only 1 error in the three games, and it didn't hurt the Tigers.
So what do you think is the key going into this weekend's SEC opening series against South Carolina?
Before we get to this coming weekend, you said it about Cheyenne Baxter. Coming over to Mizzou from Nebraska-Omaha, I was not sure just how much she would able to contribute and to what end we would be able to count on her in terms of pitching and opponents. She seems to have quickly developed Coach E’s trust and she has certainly exceeded what I hoped to get out of her spot as a #3.
On to South Carolina, the team comes has a couple of mid-week games at home against some lesser schools before they greet the Tigers. At 15-5 through last weekend, the Gamecocks find themselves just outside the top 25 rankings (where Mizzou is currently 20/21 in the two polls). Our squads share a loss to UCF (now 15th in the country) while USC has also fallen to #11 Florida State (4-3 in 10), #24 South Alabama (4-1), Northwestern (6-4) and East Carolina (1-0). They have a BIG bat in the lineup in Alaynie Page who bats .441 and has 7 HR and 25 RBI in 20 games, putting her slugging at .897 and OBP at .513. South Carolina looks to be pretty free swinging (106 K’s to 81 BB’s in 20 games) and their fielding is pretty average (22 errors/.963 fielding percentage). What else do you see for USC at the plate and then in the circle?
Page is definitely their star (she also leads the team with 6 SB!) but the Gamecocks feature 3 other regulars batting over .350. Almost everyone in their lineup with regular playing has at least 1 HR and 2 doubles. They are a team that can really hit the ball...Mizzou will have to hope that Tori's form against Maryland holds up, and that Paige Lowary's outing against Penn St. was a blip. Working to the advantage of the Mizzou pitchers - they've only allowed 2 HR on the season to date. Keeping that going will be important this weekend.
In the circle, South Carolina is (like many teams) a two-woman squad. But both of them are quality. The leader, and likely Saturday/Monday starter, is Nickie Blue, who I can only imagine is tired of hearing her name sung to the tune of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. She has 10 starts and 75.1 innings of work so far this year, and opponents are hitting a measly .169. Her ERA is 0.93 and she sports a 69/19 K/BB ratio. Their second pitcher is Julie Sarratt, who is solid in her own right. Her 2.46 ERA matches up well with Paige Lowary's 2.29, foretelling a good matchup on the Sunday game. Sarratt only has 31 Ks in 57 innings, and has given up 5 HR. So if Tiger power shows up, it might be an opportunity to take advantage.
So we've looked at the teams, Beef. I'll let you make first prediction. Can we escape BizarroColumbia with a series victory to start SEC play?
First off, weather for Sat-Mon (weird series...thanks SEC Network) looks clear, so hopefully they get all three games in easily.
For me, the prediction will come down to whether or not Taylor Gadbois is in the lineup and healthy. She is definitely the straw that stirs our drink at this point. Leading the team in average (.459), hits, runs, on-base (.512) and steals (11-11), she has to be the table setter. Crane has not been bad, but the on-base percentage (.378) is just not quite there right now. And while I feel like Randazzo and/or Roth could start to break out soon, I just cant count on the offense too much at this point.
On the pitching side, I need to see Tori get some easier innings, as I feel like she either struggles to start the inning and has to rally to get out of it, or starts strong and then falters before the inning ends. With a team that seems to be as free-swinging as South Carolina might be, this should be a good chance for her to get some K’s and some quick innings. The fact she (and the rest of the pitching staff) have not given up many HR’s yet is encouraging for this weekend against a solid hitting team.
At this point, I think a healthy Mizzou team has a chance to go down there two of three, if not all three. I think our upside is higher than USC’s (though they do own a 3-1 win over #16 Cal), but are we going to be firing on all cylinders for the weekend? If we have Taylor for all three games, I say two of three, with us falling on Sunday. If not, I think we might feel good to take one of the three.
Alright Switzy…now that I have been as broad as possible, what do you see happening?
I'll be straightforward. I think the Tigers should win 2 this weekend even if Gadbois doesn't play. If Gadbois plays all three, I'm giving Mizzou the sweep. More optimistic, perhaps, than I usually go, but I still feel good about this team.
To quickly play off your comments on our team - I worry a lot about Roth, but I agree than Randazzo could break out anytime. I also think Genovese could do the same (she certainly found her stroke in conference play last year). Meanwhile, the Tigers will have to hope that Sanchez can at least maintain her performance...especially that patience at the plate. In the circle, I'll remind you and our one's of readers that Finucane a) has a pretty good 1.75 ERA and b) has gotten jack squat for run support. I don't disagree that she needs some easier innings, but some of that will fall on the defense as well. I'd love to see her work with a lead for a change...I suspect she'd throw a little easier. This weekend should tell us a lot.
That's it on my end for this round, Beef. Any parting thoughts?
I like the idea of finishing strong, so I think I am going to call it a column!