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Mizzou Softball: A Strange Week/Weekend Indeed

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At the end of the day, you cannot complain about how the Tigers would do over their five games last week. How they will do moving forward after what happened this past week is very much up for discussion

The Tigers can't win the SEC, but they can certainly improve their post-season possibilities this weekend
The Tigers can't win the SEC, but they can certainly improve their post-season possibilities this weekend
The Beef

{Once again, our friend Switzy is out driving the highways of America on his way back East, so I will go it alone in recapping all the games he was able to see. In addition, feel free to use this for today's double-header}

In this very column last week, I talked about how good I thought LSU was, but how they had strangely struggled on the road and how the Tigers were playing some of the best softball they had been playing all season.  The offense continued to shine, while the pitching was...well...interesting to say the least.

Iowa:

What had originally been scheduled as a double-header was shortened down into a single game, and it is probably a good thing.  Tori took the to the circle and ran into some early trouble, giving up a 2-run HR to Megan Blank.  But the Tigers would come storming right back in the bottom of the first, regaining the lead and sending Tori back to the circle up 3-2.  Early in the 2nd inning, Tori would collide with another Mizzou player tracking down a foul ball and would fall awkwardly.  What was originally thought to be a lower body issue on first replay turned into a bruising of the muscles between the armpit and hip on her right side. Paige Lowary would enter the game with no one out in the 2nd inning and would commence with absolutely mowing down the Hawkeyes, giving up only two hits (and no walks) in five innings, striking out seven.  On offense, Taylor Gadbois continued her torrid pace, going 4-4 with 4 stolen bases and 2 runs scored as the Tigers would tack on three in the 5th and close it out with 4 in the 6th for the 10-2 (6) run-ruled win.

SMS:

With Finucane down for an undetermined amount of time, the Tigers headed to Springfield to make up a previously rained out game against the Bears.  Off of her five inning performance the afternoon before, Paige Lowary headed back to the circle.  The Tigers would stake her to a 1-0 lead after one, and then added a single run in the second and two more in the third.  With two more in the 5th, the Tigers were sitting in a decent position for another run-ruled win, up 6-0. Kelsea Roth hit two more HR's to bring her total into double figures and Lowary scattered four hits and only one walk with six K's.  Baxter came in to start the 7th inning, but struggled to record an out and Coach Stubble went back to Lowary to finish it off.  The Tigers won 6-0 and headed right back home for their biggest weekend series of the season.

LSU:

So now, after 187 pitches in two days from Wednesday and Thursday, Paige Lowary was once again called upon to start a game, but not just any game.  This was the first of three games, thankfully starting on a Saturday, against #3 LSU.  The start was a little rocky for Lowary, as she found herself down 2-0 after the top of the third inning.  It was then that the Tigers would get on the board and tie it in the 3rd.  They would do themselves one better in the bottom of the fourth and the ffith, putting five more runs on the Bayou Tigers and getting Lowary out to a 7-2 lead. With Finucane still on the mend, Paige would go the distance, throwing 141 pitches in 7 innings, giving up 2 earned runs on 4 hits with 4 walks and 9 big strikeouts for her 16th win of the season.

Alright...now it is Sunday, and Coach E feels good about getting Tori back in the circle. She would struggle keeping it around the plate, with 5 strikeouts and 5 walks over 3 innings, but the Tigers would stake her to a big, early lead and it would be 7-1 after three full innings.  She would get the hook early in the 4th, and Lowary would come back on for thankfully only 22 more pitches.  It was only 22 because the Tigers would bring it all home in the bottom of the 5th, scoring an impressive 10-2 (5) run-rule win.  And while the offense AND pitching would both run out of gas come Monday, falling 9-0 (5), the Tigers got out of the week and weekend what they needed.  A couple of signature wins against a top-ranked opponent and a RPI bump to #8 in the nation (with the ranking moving up to #11).  So, how do they follow it up?

Northern Iowa:

The Tigers are home until they head to Louisiana early next week for the SEC Tournament, finishing their out of conference schedule against the UNI Panthers.  The Panthers are 18-24 overall, 12-9 in The Valley.  They hit only .255 with fairly minimal power (40 HR's), but decent speed (51-56 on the base paths). Their best hitter would be their only hitter above .300 which is Ricky Alcaraz.  Batting .309 with 8 HR's and 20 RBI's, she leads the team in most offensive categories. She even has decent speed with 7 stolen bases.  That category is led by Samantha Olson with 11 stolen bases, but only with a .247 batting average.  In the circle, the Tigers are sure to see Chelsea Ross, who is 15-13 with a decent ERA of 3.66 over 158.2 innings.  She has given up just over one hit an inning at 167, but with 164 K's and 54 walks. The Tigers will also likely see Alyssa Buchanan, who is 3-8 with an ERA north of four and a half. The defense behind the two is not great, with 56 errors and a fielding percentage of .954. Obviously, pitching depth for the Tigers will be an issue, but I would assume Tori sees SOME time in the circle. What would be best is the Tigers getting out to commanding leads and Cheyenne Baxter being able to take some innings off of her load to get her healthy for the Tigers biggest opponent to date.

Florida:

LSU (twice by scores of 14-10 and 10-3 in Gainesville), Alabama (5-1 in Tuscaloosa) and Miss St. (5-3 in Stark-Vegas).  Those are the losses for Florida this season.  All four of them.  Yeah.  Honestly, I was surprised to see LSU on that list twice, especially because they are below .500 on the road (but 30-1 at home and the next time they would leave home would be the WCWS as they finish SEC play at home, have the SEC Tourney at home, surely have a Regional at home and likely have a Super Regional at home...but enough about LSU). Anyway, the Gators have great wins in OOC, beating Oregon a few times along with Michigan who are the top 2 teams behind the near-unanimous #1 Gators. Let's take a look at their traits, starting with what can be considered the worst, their offense.

On offense, the Gators hit .314 with 65 HR's and 69 stolen bases.  Yes, the offense is the worst of the three main areas.  They have three hitters with double-digit HR's, led by Lauren Haeger with 15 HR's on a .343/.481/.706 slash line. Right behind her in HR's is Bailey Castro with 14 and the same .343 batting average, but with a better .545/.781 OBP/Slug percentage. And at the top of the order is Kelsey Stewart, owner of a team-leading .451 batting average and 21-23 in stolen bases.  They do have some regulars who are below .300, including Kathlyn Medina who is all the way down at .208.  But with such power up top, you can afford to have some defensive specialists.  And specialists they do.  The Gators have committed only 27 errors on the season, leading to a fielding percentage just under .980. This has led to only 20 unearned runs, over half of which have been attributed to the third starter who the Tigers may not see.

But oh man, the pitchers they will see.  The #2 starter is Alesha Ocasio who is merely 15-3 on the season with an ERA of 1.82 over 115.1 innings.  She has given up only 85 hits with 19 walks, meaning her WHIP is less than 1.  She has 132 K's over that span and opponents are hitting .199 against her. The clear-cut number one is Lauren Haeger, who I have to imagine is on the VERY short list to be national player of the year. At bat she is tremendous, but in the circle there might be no one better.  She is 23-0 on the year with a 1.26 ERA in 139.1 innings.  In that time, she has given up only 89 hits with 28 walks and 159 K's. This leads to a batting average against of only .184. She's given up only 5 HR's all season.

Consider this: In the four losses this year, the pitching staff has given up 34 runs (7 unearned).  In the 47 wins, they have given up only 62.  Can they be touched by a good offense?  Certainly. But if you dont, are you winning 2-1 via small ball?  Not terribly likely.

Did I think the Tigers would take two of three from LSU, especially with Tori only pitching three innings for the weekend?  Absolutely not. So now, it makes it VERY tough to make any sort of predictions against the best team in the nation. If she is healthy and the Tigers do what the Bayou Bengals did, the Super Regional hosting is VERY much in play. One win in three and they may need a big win down in LA to get back to that RPI and ranking level.  But one weekend at a time.  If you want to see what should be high caliber softball, Columbia, MO is your place this weekend.