So Switzy, just another boring weekend of Mizzou Softball eh?
Let’s get right into it and start with one of the many elements which will resonate beyond the weekend. How about Coach E. getting run out of the game on Saturday and the response of the team since then?
In the bottom of the 5th of the middle game this weekend, down 1-0, Amanda Sanchez hit a bouncer off the glove of the pitcher. Emily Crane came home from 3rd and would have scored - except Sanchez was called out at 1st to end the inning. To that point, the only run scored was on a Natalie Fleming error, and the pitching had been solid on both sides. These are the facts:
1. The call was close, but the call was wrong.
2. Coach E's response was wildly overblown, including bumping the ref who made the call.
Now for speculation. I believe Coach was trying to fire up his team. And according to the comments from Corrin Genovese, it sort of worked. After all, the team managed 4 runs in the final two innings after looking a little helpless at the plate previously. Problem was that they also allowed a 6-run 6th to Miss. St. in what has unfortunately become the recurring theme of the season - an error/walk filled, big number allowed inning that leads to a loss.
But the Sunday series finale went much better. How much of that was response to Earleywine's suspension, I don't know. But it was nice to see the Tigers rock Alexis Silkwood, who's been so solid this season for the Bulldogs. Now he'll also miss the first game of today's double-header against Western Illinois; I don't expect that to be much of a factor.
After a brief lull from the bats, the Sunday game seemed to remind us of just what this team can do at the plate. On the other hand, we've been worried about pitching much of this season, Beef. If one can overlook the errors, we see some improved numbers from inside the circle. What is the outlook for Mizzou's pitching as we head into the last few weeks of the season?
The lull in the bats had me chuckling to myself on Saturday. I sat there thinking, "Wouldn’t it be a totally Mizzou thing for the pitching to FINALLY come around and for the bats to go away at the same exact time?" In the end, there was a lot more to come from the Saturday action, which you covered below. I thought the call was obviously wrong as well, and I appreciate how much concern Coach E displayed because it seemed like he also was feeling concerned about the bats. I thought that concern actually started on Friday with his small ball-style calls to plate a couple of runs (both of which we needed). Sunday was a nice sigh of relief for me.
So…back to the pitching and the associated fielding. For the weekend, our pitchers gave up three earned runs and NINE UNEARNED. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that before. But that is on the back of SIXTEEN walks. So yes, 21 hits over 19 innings is still a little high (but not terrible), but 16 walks and five errors get me back to what I was talking about last week, which was that the margin for error was really small. To be honest, 21 hits, 16 walks and 5 errors in 19 innings (and with the bats being pretty quiet in two of three games), I’d have thought we lost two of three with those numbers. So to sum up, I don’t feel that much better about the pitching this week as I did the last week because now it seems like it needs to get better (again) to overcome the fielding deficiencies.
Alright, you referenced Western Illinois for the later this afternoon…anything worth noting with them before we set our eyes on the road weekend series against Arkansas? At the same time, talk about some of the injury concerns which are slowly starting to mount.
Definitely would like to see the walks cut down, but I still think that Finucane, at least, is pitching better than she has in a while. But it remains to be seen. I think defense is a less glaring problem, because three of the costly errors this weekend came from defensive replacements. Sami Fagan DP'd on Friday, but was held out of the other two games due to "concussion-like symptoms" resulting from an off-the-field incident. At last word, she is expected back for the mid-week doubleheader. In her stead, Natalie Fleming manned 2nd base (although why her instead of Emily Crane I'm not quite sure...) and committed a fielding error that gave Mississippi State the lead.
Then during an at-bat on Saturday, Kirsten Mack gripped her shoulder in obvious pain and was later seen in the dugout with a sling and ice pack. The backup catcher is...Sami Fagan. So the Tigers were forced to go with their 3rd catcher, senior Alyssa Cousins. In the disastrous top of the 6th, Cousins failed to catch a simple toss from the pitcher that would have been a force-out at home. Instead, 2 runs scored on the play, and the Tigers hopes of a comeback were dashed. Cousins was also responsible for one of the other errors in that game.
With Mack back at catcher on Sunday and Fagan due back this week, it appears the Tigers have avoided too much damage from injuries. But I'm sure the experience will have Coach E looking at his depth charts once again going forward.
So on to Western Illinois. The Fighting Leathernecks are not a particularly good team. They stand at 13-15 on the season, and 3-6 in Summit League Play. Their schedule is devoid of major competition, although they have a common opponent with Mizzou in Penn State (Mizzou won 11-7 in 8 innings, W. Ill. lost 6-2). At the plate, the team is led by Sammy Marshall (.455, 21 SB) and Teagan Walsh (.387, 25 RBI). They have only two other players, though, who hit .300 or better; everyone else is .250 and below, and the team only has 10 total HR in 28 games played. Mizzou should face Kaycee Hart in one game - she leads the team with 14 starts and sports a 3.28 ERA and allows a .245 average. She has some control issues - 39 walks in 85 innings, and doesn't strike out too many batters (64). The other game will likely see Kayla Kirkpatrick (5.31 ERA, 10 starts, 10 HR allowed in 54 innings), or Brooke Stulga (3.63 ERA in 4 starts, .292 average allowed, only 2 HR allowed in 34 innings).
In either case, the Tigers should sweep the two games without trouble. The goals should be to keep everyone healthy, spread around the at-bats, and get some confidence building work for Finucane and Lowary. And, of course, avoid falling into a mid-week trap...
So Arkansas is next on the SEC slate, Beef, and if the conference can be said to have an easy opponent, it's definitely Arkansas. What lies in store for Mizzou's final SEC road trip of the season?
Well, let’s start with these two tidbits:
- Arkansas has not won a HOME game all season (0-10).
- Arkansas has won only one game in the SEC thus far (5-4 against South Carolina)
We’ve shared some opponents on the season, with Arkansas losing to Penn State, UT-C, Texas, and Louisville (all out of conference MU wins). They have defeated SLU (as we did) and also lost to UCF (as we did). In conference, they were knocked around by UGA (combined score of 31-5 in three losses) and swept by Miss State (3-0, 3-2 and 16-4). They did earn their lone SEC win against Carolina, while dropping the other two 8-0 and 8-3. Needless to say, it has been a rough year so far.
The LadyHawgs hit only .255 as a team with minimal power (25 HR’s), but do have some speed (44-54 on the basepaths). They are led by senior Devon Wallace, who is one of only three people who has started every game they have played this season (which shows to me either injury or just throwing options against the wall, hoping they stick…neither of which are good signs). Wallace is as much of a triple threat as Arkansas has, hitting .359/.522/.538 with a team-high 5 HR’s and 24 RBI’s, but also with 8 SB’s. She has also worked a RIDICULOUS 37 walks, which contribute to that stellar OBP. Sami Fagan’s sister Kasey is also a leader on the squad, hitting .357 in 33 starts (though with 12 errors in the field). Stephanie Canfield is the other regular in the lineup with a .325 average and solid speed (4 triples and 10 SB’s). As a team, they have a decent eye (167 BB’s to 190 K’s), but they really don’t scare you a ton. In the field, they are even less scary, with 57 errors (.955 fielding) which has led to 63 unearned runs.
So as we turn our eye towards the circle, what do you expect the Tigers to see this coming weekend?
Arkansas' staff has struggled all year, top to bottom. The leader of the rotation is Sydney Wright, whose 19 starts are more than any other two pitchers combined for the Razorbacks. More to the point, she has appeared in 35 games out of 42 played. Mizzou should expect to see her start twice, and possibly in relief in the middle game. As of press time, Wright holds a 3.96 ERA in her 132.2 IP, with a .293 BA allowed. She's a pitch-to-contact type, with only 70 strikeouts to her name, and she can fall victim to walks (52 allowed).
If, however, Arkansas is to the point of playing everyone just to see what they have, we might see any of their other three other pitchers in their all-underclassmen group. Allison Stewart has 8 starts with a 5.25 ERA and .311 BA allowed; Haley Meinen's 4 starts have mostly come in recent weeks and she brings a 5.29 ERA and only 15 K's in 46 innings; and Grace Moll has a 6.35 ERA and .330 BA allowed in 8 starts.
There's not really anything dangerous about this squad, and Mizzou has shown more than enough at the plate this season to suggest that the Tigers could run away with the series in easy fashion. It will be imperative on the players and coaches to make sure that Mizzou does a professional job and doesn't get over-confident going into the weekend. In particular, it would be a good weekend for Taylor Gadbois to take advantage of the contact given and the shaky defense to get going.
This series has sweep written all over it, Beef. Anything less, given Arkansas' record, would have to be a big disappointment. More so when we consider the LSU and Florida series Mizzou has coming up to finish the season; these games are going to be vital in putting Mizzou in a solid position for the SEC tournament. Are your pessimism goggles on, or will you join me in the broom parade?
Before I affix my googles, I do want to talk about Taylor Gadbois and how important this series might be. While I don't have SEC-specific numbers, I do know this. Early in the season her batting average was somewhere north of .450 and she was stealing bases left and right. I know her batting average now sits somewhere in the .325 range, but her stolen base numbers have not really moved at all. While 20-22 is still quite good (and still first on the team), what is REALLY concerning to me is the OBP of just .380. With 22 K's and only 8 BB's, she is just not getting on base enough. For instance, during the big inning on Sunday, she got on base (via error, but bat on ball) and immediately started to pressure the infield. Crane reached via another error (I believe) and the inning was off and running. Crane has done tremendous work picking up some the slack for Taylor, but if she can get back to making contact and making things happen, I think Coach E will feel a lot better about going for the big innings rather than going small-ball style as he did for a little while on Friday to eek out the runs which got us the first win.
I agree that a sweep is going to be pretty darn important. Perhaps it will be a chance to give Fagan and Mack some additional rest time to help them get healthy for the stretch run. Perhaps it will be a chance to get some shortened games and/or some innings for innings for Baxter to provide some cover for Tori and Paige. Also, with ranking in the RPI of 9, these games are going to be very important for keeping that ranking up to at least merit a Regional hosting slot (typically in/around top-16) while also keep us on the edge of Super Regional hosting potential (which would be buoyed by big series wins against LSU and UF, but that is putting the cart far in front of the horse).
Anything else before we call it another week?
Since you asked, I'll throw in some conference-only numbers.
Taylor Gadbois is hitting .163 in conference play, with 2 stolen bases and 13 strikeouts to only 3 walks. Frankly, unless she's getting on base, she's hurting the team because she rarely hits the ball to the grass. I don't know whether Earleywine would consider a change in the lineup or even a break for Taylor, but if she doesn't break out this weekend...
There are a couple other hitters who could benefit from a boost right now as well - Kirsten Mack and Amanda Sanchez are carrying sub-.250 conference BAs. If Roth, Fagan, Crane, and Genovese (who is hitting a surprising .366 in SEC play; I wouldn't have guessed that!) get a little extra help from those two, things could look up for the Tigers.