Well, you and I had it a bit wrong when we predicted Mizzou would get a win over Auburn. Take us through what happened.
Last Thursday afternoon did not quite go how both you and I envisioned it, as the ladies fell to eventual SEC Tourney Champ Auburn. Want to take a few seconds and review that game/the tournament as a whole before we move to the business of this coming weekend?
The Auburn game was a matter of mistakes. Twice, Mizzou sent runners home who were easily thrown out at the plate. Twice, Sami Fagan made very un-Sami Fagan like mistakes in the field. Mizzou fails to score two runs; Auburn gets a couple unearned. Although pitching has certainly played its role in some of the less enjoyable parts of Mizzou's schedule this season, these types of mistakes have, more often than not, been the enemy of Mizzou's sustained success.
But now the realest part of the season begins, and it's time to see if they can't put the kibosh on those mental errors and problems for a period, and give the quality of this team a chance to make a deep run into the WCWS.
Mizzou's draw for the first game of the regional is against Indiana State (148th in RPI). The other two teams in the regional are Louisville (45th) and Kansas (23rd). Where would you like to start in examining the field, Beef?
Well, we need to start with the one opponent we know we are going to see, which is the Sycamores of ISU. They will be making their first ever appearance in the NCAA’s and are a fun story this season. They will enter at 26-29, having won four straight in the MVC to get here. Heck, it was their first appearance at the Valley tournament since 2009.
(Stat references are from BEFORE the four wins of the Valley tourney)
For the Sycamore, MVC Player of the Year Megan Stone is certainly a name to watch. She batted .400 on the year with 11 HR’s and 46 RBI’s, with a slash line of .400/.495/.742. She led the team in every offensive category, including strikeouts and stolen bases (10 of 11). With only 20 HR’s on the season, Stone hit just over half of them. Mary Turitto is next on the team with 3 and 26 RBI’s (also 2nd). For average, Kassie Brown (.356) and Erika Crissman (.354) are the other hitters over .300 for a team which hit .284 on the season. The team does run decently well, though they are not terribly efficient at it, with 58 steals, but in 84 chances. They are also super-aggressive at the plate, with only 136 walks to 232 strikeouts.
In the field, the defense is decent, with 52 errors and a fielding percentage of .965 leading to 53 unearned runs. That leads me to the circle where the Sycamores are not amazing. The team ERA of 4.58 and team batting average against of .309 means Mizzou should have some chances to make some money for the StubbleDrive, especially considering the 60 HR’s given up on the season. Taylor Lockwood is the expected starter, and she was 14-13 with a 3.49 through 178.2 innings, giving up 188 hits and (only) 42 walks to 131 K’s. Her batting average against is .262, so the Tigers may have a little work to do. She has given up 38 HR’s on the year.
After that, you want to go ahead and assume a Jayhawk win and for us to take a look at our (former) rival to the west?
Why not? It'll be fun imagining everyone cringe as I capitalize their name over and over...
The Kansas Jayhawks spent the better part of the season parked in and around the bottom edge of the top 25 rankings, finishing the regular season in the "also received" section of the polls, but in the top 25 of the RPI. They managed a school record 38 wins (against 13 losses) on the season, and received the at-large selection to their 12th NCAA tournament appearance.
Kansas is the strongest of the foes Mizzou may have to face in the Columbia regional, featuring talent in all three phases of the game. They are one of the top defensive teams in college softball, with only 34 errors committed on the season, and a tremendous .976 fielding percentage. Their pitchers have only given up 22 unearned runs on the entire season.
In the circle, Alicia Pille dominates the playing time, collecting 30 starts on the season; none of the 4 other Jayhawk pitchers has even 10. She boasts a 23-6 record with a 2.90 ERA, allowing opponents to hit .236. She averages just shy of a strikeout per inning (184 Ks in 188.1 innings) but also can be reached via free pass - she issued 70 walks and hit 21 batters over the course of the season. If Mizzou manages to avoid Pille - or knock her out of a game - the likely replacement is Bryn Houlton. Houlton has 63 IP, with a 3.22 ERA, but is not a strikeout pitcher and gives up a .257 average to her opposition.
At the plate, Kansas has a very solid group of contributors. Six players are hitting over .300 on the year, including their two biggest home run threats - Chaley Brickey (.393, 13 HR, 55 RBI) and Daniella Chavez (..353, 15 HR, 65 RBI). Briana Evans (.319, 11 SB) is their biggest speed threat, but the Jayhawks have only taken 24 bases via steal on the year. Lily Behrmann* (.369/.536/.568 - team leading 38 walks) and Maddie Stein (.368, 6 HR, 41 RBI) are also worth noting. As a team, Kansas hits .319, and exhibits both patience and free-swinging tendencies (222 walks, 230 strikeouts). *Note that Behrmann doesn't seem to have played in about a month, but I was unable to locate information about why.
KU presents a challenge for Mizzou - but one less daunting than that faced over the majority of the past few months of SEC play. What is the Cliff's Notes version of Louisville, Beef, in case Mizzou ends up facing them?
Should the Tigers face the Cardinals, it would nearly bring the season full-circle, as the Tigers took on Louisville to start the season. That day, Tori Finucane scattered 6 hits and 3 walks and a lone earned run with 4 K’s as the Tigers jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two innings and never looked back, winning 5-1. Louisville went on to finish 30-17 on the season, 16-7 in the ACC. They have some decent bats in the lineup, which batted .312 on the year (coming into the ACC final against NC State which they would drop). Lots of nice averages across the board, led by Kelsi Jones and Jordan McNary, each batting .371. Jones does quite a bit for the team with a .371/.475/.606 slash line featuring 4 HR’s, 32 RBI’s and 12 steals. Not much other speed from the team, as they only had 20 steals on the year as a whole. Power is also a little lacking, as no one reached double figures and only one (Maryssa Becker with 9) had more than 5 HR’s. But they can string hits together, as they have six normal starters all over .291, also evident by the relatively low BB rate (155) and K rate (188)
Fielding is solid at .971 with 42 errors, which led to 35 unearned runs. Into the circle, the Tigers defeated Shelby McCombs that first day, chasing her after three innings. McCombs would end up being the #2 starter on the team, with a 10-5 record and 2.87 ERA (Mizzou’s five runs were all earned). She went 105 innings, giving up 106 hits and 37 BB’s, with 69 K’s to her credit. The #1 starter turned out to Maryssa Becker, who went 14-6 with a 2.24 ERA on the year through 150 innings. She only gave up 131 hits and 47 BB’s, with 137 K’s and a batting average against of .228. If the Tigers were to see L’ville, it would be in a 2nd game, making McCombs somewhat more likely to pitch than Becker. Madi Norman is starter #3, and she actually threw 4 shutout innings against Mizzou back in Feb. She would go on to go 6-5 with a 4.14 ERA in 49 innings pitched, giving up 64 hits and 16 BB’s on 25 K’s. And while she only gave up two hits to the then-lightly hitting Tigers, batters ended up hitting .302 against her.
Alright good sir…it comes to prediction time. As a #10 seed, and if you walked back the rest of the seeds within the pod of 4, kU being in/around the top 25 in RPI is right about the level of opponent Mizzou should see (so kudos to the committee). Everyone on the team should be well-rested, though the status of Amanda Sanchez is in question. From a pitching standpoint, this will actually be the first tournament for BOTH Finucane and Lowary, as Tori did not pitch last year in our Regional exit. Who do you lead with against ISU?
I believe the choice will be Tori Finucane. Not only does that give her another outing to confirm her recovery and build her confidence, but it permits Paige Lowary - by all evidence the staff "ace" at the moment - to remain completely rested in the event that Mizzou stumbles and has to play marathon ball on Saturday afternoon and Sunday. Of course, regardless of who starts, Earleywine will be itching for the team to build a big lead and end it early on a run-rule or at least give Cheyenne Baxter the leeway to visit the circle for a while.
An interesting approach - that I don't think he will take - would be to plan ahead on giving Finucane and Lowary each 3 innings of work, leaving the door open for either of the two to start Saturday's game. But while they may both pitch if Mizzou is in trouble, I don't see that being his approach in advance of the game.
Would you do anything different? And does Mizzou make it through this regional?
In my perfect world, here is where you send a #3 pitcher to the mound. I also realize that VERY few teams would have that luxury. So to me, I think you start Tori, and the hook is quick if the lead allows it. This allows Lowary to be fully ready for the winner’s game and then a decently rested Tori returns for the finals with Paige ready to go if need be.
I think Mizzou does make it through the Regional. I think last year’s result (despite the crippling blow of losing Tori right before it) will certainly have left a bitter taste in the mouths of the players. While not a senior-laden team, we are certainly an experienced team, and this team knows how to win. I think staking pitchers to early leads is going to be important, so I could see Coach E err’ing on the side of small ball to start before letting them rip later in the game to put it away. Home crowd will be nice, especially if they need to react/respond to whatever nonsense ISU intends to perpetrate on their bench. And if the weather is good on Saturday and kU holds up their end of the bargain, it should be a lot of fun at University Field. In the end, I think Mizzou goes 3-0 to get to next weekend.
How do you see it going?
I'm going to sign-on to your vision again this week. I think the pitching staff is as strong as they've been all year (Lowary even kept Auburn in check for the most part last weekend in the loss) and the bats have certainly earned the benefit of the doubt. We know Mizzou can handle Louisville if it comes to that, and Kansas doesn't have a particularly shining record against top competition. I see Mizzou escaping unscathed this weekend and facing off against UCLA in next week's Super Regional.
Bold prediction: MVP of the Regional will be Corrin Genovese.
I'mma let you have the last word, Beef, if you have anything to add. I hope everyone makes a point of keeping up with this very enjoyable squad as they shoot for the WCWS this weekend!
For what it is worth, I could see Mizzou scuffling a bit out of the gate on Friday against a decent pitcher from ISU before getting it going in the right direction.
I will be in Chicago for the weekend at a bachelor party (replete with rooftop seats for the Cubs game on Saturday), so I will be following Twitter only before returning home on Sunday.
My final word, as much as it will pain me to say them will be a nod to my hopes the Tigers get to host a Super Regional weekend next weekend.
So….(sigh)….hook ‘em horns!