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Mizzou Softball: Hand-Wringing Turns Into High-Fiving

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It ended up being quite the offensive week for the Tigers who now hit the stretch run of the regular season schedule with quite a bit to play for.

Emily Crane has been tremendous for the Tigers this season
Emily Crane has been tremendous for the Tigers this season
The Beef

{Switzy is driving the highways and byways of America this week, so I will be all alone this week...just talking to myself.  Also, feel free to use this as the game-thread for today's game against Iowa}

Lots to review and preview for the Tigers, who had a tremendously offensive week at the plate on the way to five straight wins.  Without the witty banter Switzy and I have become known for, let's gets right into the action.

Western Illinois:

Can I be honest for a moment?  At around 4:00 in the afternoon at this time last week, I was pretty nervous.  The Tigers had given up a three-spot to WIU in the bottom of the first, and while they got one run back in the top of the third, they gave it right back in the bottom of the next.  Down 4-1, moving to the FIFTH inning, yeah...not looking great.  But the offense would explode for six runs in the 5th, two more in the 6th and six more in the top of the last on our way to a 15-4 win. Natalie Fleming hit HR #2 on the season and while Gadbois and Crane combined to go only 1-7 (though with four runs scored between them), the group of Fagan, Sanchez, Genovese, Mack, Randazzo and the aforementioned Fleming went 14-25 with 10 runs scored, all 14 RBI's, 1 HR, 2 doubles and a triple.  Finucane did settle down, walking none and K'ing six over five innings and Baxter had two quiet innings to complete it.

In the night cap, the Tigers flipped the script and got out early on WIU, scoring four in the first on their way to a 8-1 win, which was shortened to five innings due to darkness.  Gadbois went 2-4 with two runs scored (amazing how that happens when she gets on base) and the Tigers also got good efforts from Fagan (theme) and Roth.  Lowary delivered four solid innings with only one BB to three K's and Baxter pitched another quiet inning.

Arkansas

Some numbers of note from the weekend series for Mizzou:

  • 16 innings pitched
  • 12 hits surrendered
  • 3 walks
  • 6 errors
  • 24 strikeouts
  • 1 run (and it was earned)
The six errors over 16 innings is not a great number by any means (it is not even a good number), but because the hits and walks came to just under one combined per innings, the Tigers did not find themselves hurt by the errors in giving up only the single, earned run in the weekend set against the Lady Hawgs.  Tori was clean on Friday, allowing only three hits, no walks and striking out eight over five innings in an effort that started to look as dominant as she did at times last season.  Paige Lowary throws HARD and against Arkansas was spotting the ball better, combining to throw five innings on the weekend, giving up four hits, the lone run, one walk and eight K's.  And again, Cheyenne Baxter saw some time and provided some pretty quiet innings.

Meanwhile...on offense:
  • 30 runs (26 earned)
  • 35 hits
  • 5 HR's
  • 7 other XBH's
  • 9 SB's
  • 6-10 with 4 runs, 4 SB's (and 2 RBI's) for Gadbois
  • 6-10 with 5 runs and 7 RBI's for Fagan
Fagan would go on to win SEC Player of the Week for her efforts, but the more important effort of the week came from Gadbois.  Hitting well under .200 in SEC play, she had a week which would lead you to believe she is in the process of turning it around.  Her season stats are still decent in places, with a .346 avg (third-best on the team), 33 runs scored and 26-28 in stolen bases.  But for a leadoff hitter, her OBP of .397 (second-worst of the eight "normal" starters) has been a hindrance, with only 9 BB's to 23 K's.  If she is back to getting the bat on the ball, she is the key to our offense.  Once on base, she puts such pressure on the defense to make plays and the pitcher to make pitches that Crane and Fagan just eat it up.

Also of note was a stat offered late on the Sunday broadcast which stated the Tigers had hit 48 HR's in their last 31 games (it is possible our final of the game came after this stat, but close enough). With 55 now on the year, it does give you an idea about some of the offensive struggles early in the year while also lending credence to Coach Stubble's pre-season comment about the potential for this team at the plate. With Fagan, Mack, Sanchez, Roth and even still Randazzo, you have five players who either will finish with or were capable of double-digit HR's this season (Randazzo is finally starting to come out of her funk, which is REALLY scary if true and she has a big finish to the end of the year). With that kind of power, mixed with speed enough to claim 76-84 stolen bases and average enough to hit .325 right now, the Tigers are rounding nicely into shape.

And Arkansas still has not won a home softball game this season...

Anyway, let's move on to the week ahead.

Iowa

What was once a double-header for this afternoon is now down to just one game at 5pm.  A quick look at the Hawkeyes shows me...um...not a whole lot.  Iowa is 16-33 on the season, with a 7-10 record in the Big 10 and is 99th in the current RPI poll (where the Tigers are 11th). According to stats through April 12th, they have only three hitters above .300, though Megan Blank is quite the talent, hitting .433 with 7 HR's, leading the team in pretty much everything.  However, five of eight normal starters bat below .258 and the team has just about twice as many K's (250) as they do walks (127).  Not much speed either, though the defense is OK.  In the circle, I would expect Iowa to throw Shayla Starkenburg.  Sitting 12-17 on the year with an ERA over 5, the Tigers SHOULD find their way on to the basepaths early and often.  Through 176.2 innings. Starkenburg has given up 204 hits (148 runs/128 earned) with another 120 walks (148 Ks).  26 HR's have been hit off of her, as opponents are hitting .283 against her.

So that takes care of today, but what about tomorrow?

SMS

The Tigers will travel down to Springfield tomorrow for a single game against the Bears, who are sitting 26-18 on the season with a current RPI of 114.  In looking at the schedules, SMS has actually defeated Iowa twice, so I guess they have that going for them, which...you know...is nice.  Beyond that, their stats actually do look better than Iowa's, though I assume their strength of schedule is what has them below in the RPI.  As a team, they are batting .270 on the season with 33 HR's but decent speed (44-54).  Rebecca McPherson leads or is towards the top of most categories, hitting .316 (third) with 8 HR's and 28 RBI's, though Chelsea Thomas does lead them in HR's with 9 (no, not THAT Chelsea Thomas).  The defense is sitting decent at .965 (Tigers are .957).  In the circle, Chelsea Jones and Erin Struemph have really split the work, with each working just about 120 innings each.  Jones (13-6) has the better numbers (2.22 to 3.27) and is more of a control pitcher (117 hits/38 BBs and 73 K's in 120 innings) than Struemph (124 hits/54 BB's and 119 K's in 124 innings).  Teams are hitting .268 against the Bear staff, so this could be a pretty decent matchup against what I would think would be a pretty jacked-up Bear team against a Tiger team in between home games and on the cusp of....

LSU

....oh good lord.  LSU is REALLY good. (#2 RPI/#3 poll)

On Offense:

  • hitting .352 as a team
  • 332 runs scored in 47 games (more than 7 per game)
  • 7 regulars at or over .300
  • 2 regulars over .450
  • 56-68 in stolen bases
  • 3 with 10 HR's or more
So with that last bullet, the team has combined to actually hit only 49 HR's.  The three I mentioned account for 40 of them.  Bianka Bell is out of this world, hitting .477/.535/.859 with 13 HR's and 57 RBI's.  She is also a doubles machine with 16.  Bailey Landry is right behind her at .456, though she is light hitting.  Sahvanna Jaquish is the biggest bat in the lineup with 17 HR's and 64 RBI's (team highs) while also hitting .355.  Kellsi Kloss is the other name to watch out for with 10 HR's and .353 batting average, along with AJ Andrews, who has 20 SB's on the season and EIGHT triples while batting .359.  In the field, they are decent at .960 and they strike out just a bit less than they walk (182 BB's to 158 K's).

In the circle:
  • Team ERA of 1.70
  • No pitcher with more than 95 innings on their arm
  • 229 hits and 90 BB's in 296 innings
  • 332 K's in those innings
  • .205 team average against
I really have not seen a staff like this, where the starts, split out among the four pitchers, are 11, 8, 7 and 7.  It does make it tough to try to figure out who the Tigers might see, but I have to figure Allie Walljasper is one of them.  She is 12-2 on the season with a 1.37 ERA, allowing 73 hits and 17 walks (and 17 earned runs) over 86.2 innings, with 79 K's.  Carley Hoover, who is also 12-2 (1.69 ERA), might see some time as well.  She has given up 78 hits and 34 walks in her team-leading 95.1 innings, but has struck out 119.  Kelsee Selman has an ERA just slightly higher at 1.70 through 49.1 innings, and is 8-0 with a batting average against of .188.  The pitcher with the highest ERA (at a whopping 2.14) is Baylee Corbello, and at 9-2, she has the lowest batting average against at just .185 in 65.1 innings.  The group has 47 starts and 33 CG's with 3 saves, so it does not seem like they do a lot of switching (as we do each Sunday).   But yeah, no matter who we are seeing...yikes.

Are there any silver linings in facing a team of this caliber?
  • Their power is not as dominant as other teams we have seen (though still solid)
  • Their fielding is not off-the-charts amazing (though still solid)
  • Their pitching is not mowing you down with strikeouts (though still solid at just over 1 per inning)
  • While they are 30-1 at home (THIRTY ONE GAMES PLAYED AT HOME ALREADY), they are 6-5 in true road games
  • They have lost games to three teams ranked below us (9-4 vs. Miss St, 3-1 and 5-2 vs. Kentucky and 5-2 vs. aTm)
So yeah...this team is really good and this is the caliber of softball you sign on for when you join the SEC. If the Tigers can survive the mid-week and then take two of three against LSU (and I realize how big of an IF that might be), they certainly will go a long way towards nailing down a potential Regional round host spot, and will probably get back into the serious conversation of being close to a Super Regional host as well.   The team certainly has a great opportunity in these next couple of weeks (with the #1 Florida Gators also at home next weekend) to make a hell of a push towards a long, post season run.  Signs of our trending in the right direction are all around, so let's have LSU serve as the litmus test to see just how ready this team might be to compete at the highest level.