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Mizzou Softball: Weekend Preview and Live Thread

One of the best days of the year is finally upon us, as the march towards Stubble Drive 2016 officially kicks off in Florida today

Always excited to see this picture on the front page of RMN
Always excited to see this picture on the front page of RMN
The Beef

The Beef - Alright Switzy, we’ve persevered through the long fall and most of winter to make it to the promised land.  Later ttoday, the Tigers will kick off their 2016 campaign in the Citrus Classic.  Weather permitting, the Tigers will get six games this weekend, and while a first pass of the field might make someone think the Tigers are heads and shoulders above this field on name, a little bit of a deeper dive shows the Tigers may have some interesting games ahead of them.  By no means an indication as to how they will do this season, here are the final RPI’s of the participating teams from last season:

  • Jacksonville State – 87
  • Elon – 74
  • UAB – 48
  • College of Charleston – 119
  • Stephen F. Austin – 198
  • Stetson – 97

Again, the Tigers SHOULD be considered the class of this field, but the opportunity to pick up what could a number of top-100 RPI wins is attractive.

Let’s start with Jacksonville State, who went 38-17 last season, going 18-6 in the OVC.  This was a solid hitting team last season (.322), but they do graduate their top two hitters while returning most everything else.  They have SOME power coming back (36 HR’s), but not much speed (18 stolen bases).  Before you mention anything about the pitching, I do want to point out that one of their players (Cadi Oliver) was hit by a pitch SEVENTEEN times last season.  That seems Don Baylor-esqe.

Switzy - At some point, you're just trying to get hit, right?

Jacksonville State returns 2 of their 3 primary pitchers from a staff that finished the season with a respectable 2.70 ERA but a weak K/BB ratio (237/129). The missing piece, Logan Green, transferred to North Florida. Green led Jacksonville State in wins (14) and ERA (2.36) while logging the second most starts and innings on the team. The returning starters are junior Taylor West, who was their workhorse last season with 29 starts, and sophomore Whitney Gillespie, who fell just shy of 100 innings but managed the lowest BAA of the group (.226). Two other pitchers on the roster appeared in games last season, but only briefly. J-State also added 2 freshman pitchers whose roles are to be determined.

Next up is Elon. The Phoenix are a young team, bringing back most of their top talent despite graduating six seniors from last year's squad. They finished 31-22, with an 11-10 record in the Colonial. They return three batters who hit .331 or better, and their top six hitters overall. As a team, however, they hit only .261 last season with very little power (25 HR). They did flash some speed (48 SB), but also showed very poor in the field (.960 FLD%). And since you brought it up, Elon had TWO players get hit seventeen times last season. I hope the Mizzou staff is hitting the zone... What can you tell us about Elon's pitching?

The Beef - For as roughly mediocre as Elon’s hitting was last season, I can say their pitching really wasn’t much better (which does make me wonder how they got to 31 wins and a halfway decent RPI all things considered).  They do bring back their top two pitchers, though they basically had four who saw more than 50 innings each last season.  Record-wise, they were led by now-senior Kayla Caruso, who was an impressive 12-5 with a 3.62 ERA in 16 starts (36 games).  She threw just over 100 innings, giving up 109 hits/42 BB’s/57 K’s.  The other workhorse was now-sophomore Kiandra Mitchum, who went 9-9 with a 4.04 ERA in 22 starts (34 games).  She went 107+ innings, giving up 136 hits/28 BB’s/49 K’s.  I’d anticipate Mizzou seeing one of these two, as the other pitchers on the roster are both frosh.  Something else to keep in mind is that, as a team, they allowed a batting average against of .285 with 44 HR’s.  The defense let them down a good bit with a fielding percentage of .960, which led to 52 unearned runs.

Next up on our rundown may be the toughest competitor the Tigers would see in UAB. The Blazers finished last season at 32-19 with a 15-7 record in Conference USA. That was enough for a top-50 RPI of 48. They have graduated four starters in the field, but return a couple of extremely dangerous hitters in Caitlin Attfield and SaraBeth Williamson. Attfield hit a staggering .473 last year and Williamson followed her up with a .407 average and 11 HR’s. These two helped pace the team to a solid .298 team batting average, though they lack power coming back (less than 30 HR’s returning, and obviously a considerable percentage of those belong to Williamson) and even less speed (only 16 SB’s returning. I am guessing they do a lot of station to station hitting and running, so maybe they were additionally buoyed by their pitching?

Switzy - As of this writing, early returns for UAB are coming in, as they opened 2016 against #25 N. Alabama (losing 4-0) and #11 Louisiana-Lafeyette (losing 15-0 in 5 innings). Ranked teams can do that sort of thing to even a good squad, but it's not a promising start for a pitching staff that was mediocre at best last year. If there is a saving grace for the UAB pitchers, it is that they are all returning and all young. The primary starters are junior Cara Goodwin (3.19 ERA in 18 starts, 108/57 K/BB, .259 BAA) and sophomore Megan Smith (4.66 ERA in 22 starts, 81/69 K/BB, .303 BAA). The defense behind them was solid in 2015, committing only 36 errors for a .976 fielding percentage. It will be worth noting if the UAB pitchers continue to issue free passes and if Megan Smith is able to tame her control (14 WP in 2015).

The next team on the list is College of Charleston, who finished last season 24-29 overall, 7-14 in the Colonial. They do return the bulk of their regular fielders, a group that managed a collective .278 average and 60 stolen bases last year (26 from .364 hitter Taylor Dupree). CoC is not a power team, managing only 26 HR in 2015, and having only less than 20 of those return. No returning player had more than 5 HR. Dupree and Rebecca Mueller are CoC's biggest weapons. Dupree is a leadoff speedster with a good eye - walking 18 times to only 17 strikeouts last season. Mueller hit .350 with 5 HR and a team-leading 41 RBI while exhibiting even better plate discipline than her teammate (18 walks to only 11 strikeouts). Overall, not a terrible offense, but lacking in run production. What else can we learn about CoC that would explain their sub-.500 record?

The Beef - Charleston pitching was decent last season, and probably helped carry that somewhat anemic offense at times.  Returning to a staff that had a team ERA of 4.07 with 282 K’s in 335.1 innings is Samantha Martin, who led the team in ERA with a 3.60 ERA  in a team-high 146 innings.  Her hit ratio was right at 1:1 (145 hits) and she struck out 130 on the season with 58 walks. A batting average against of .249 was also pretty solid. Beyond her, there is no real experience returning, though they did add a JUCO transfer from Long Beach State. Charleston will need to improve on the defensive side however, as they had an awful fielding percentage of .953 which led to over 50 unearned runs given up.  When you don’t score a ton, that can make all the difference.

Stephen F. Austin is next on our list, and they were the worst of the teams from last season, as they went only 19-32 on the season and 11-15 in the Southland Conference. As a potential positive, they return all but two starters on offense and all their pitching. The negative here could be that the squad just wasn’t that great. As a team, SFA hit less than .250 on the year in 2015 and returns fewer than 25 HRs. Brittany Lewis is the best hitter coming back, as she hit .329 with 10 HRs last year. There was a decent amount of speed from last season, so that is worth mentioning, as they bring back 40+ stolen bases. And to top it off, and keep up with one of the strange themes of these previews, the TEAM was only hit by pitches 14 times last year. Need to manufacture some base runners better if you cant hit but can run alright.

So what might the Tigers be facing down in the circle when they face SFA this weekend?

Switzy - SFA had a rough season in the circle last year, showing a team ERA of 4.52 while allowing opponents to bat over .300. However, their starting duo - both freshman last season -  finished with very divergent statlines, indicating that there may be a clear #1 starter in 2016. That starter would be Callee Guffee who finished with a 3.11 ERA and 110 strikeouts to 61 walks.She only permitted a .238 BAA, but (theme alert!) hit 18 batters and gave up 24 HR. The #2 will likely be Makayla Sikes. Her season was much more difficult, as she carried a 6.15 ERA in over 85 innings pitched. She walked almost as many as she struck out (42 K/ 36 BB) and allowed opponents to hit a whopping .352. On top of all those problems, the team committed 63 errors for a .952 fielding percentage, and gave up 39 unearned runs. Unfortunately for them, they will face not only Mizzou, but Florida and Georgia during the Citrus Classic.

And that brings us to the last team on the list, Stetson. In 2015, the Hatters went 30-20 overall and 10-11 in the Atlantic Sun conference. Graduation has claimed a few of their contributors, but they return a solid core at the plate. The only significant loss, statistically, was their top HR and RBI threat. Otherwise, Stetson returns about 75% of a speed game that managed 94 stolen bases last year. Jazz Vasquez and Kayla Drury each hit over .350 in 2015 and will anchor the lineup again in 2016 along with leading returning power hitter Jessica Griffin, who hit .311 with 10 HR last year. Additionally, Jessie Tenbroeck plays the table-setter role, hitting .293 with 31 SB in 35 attempts. The team hit a very respectable .295 last year and on paper could certainly threaten to do at least as well this season. One weakness to look for, however, is the strikeouts. The Hatters struck out collectively 215 times in 2015 - which could be a potential exploit for whoever Mizzou puts in the circle.

How does the rotation look for the Hatters, Beef?

The Beef - The rotation for Stetson was pretty much two people last season, and exactly half of the rotation has returned.  Sophomore Chelsea Hostetler had a pretty nice freshman campaign last year, going 20-10 in 8 starts with a 3.59 ERA.  She threw 185 innings and 23 complete games, so you know she has the ability to go the distance.  194 hits is not terrible, 78 walks is OK but not great, and only 65 K's is a little troubling.  In fact, she had almost has many XBH allowed (52) as K's.  The .274 batting average against is nothing amazing, so I imagine the Stetson defense of last season, which had a fielding percentage of .977, really helped out.  New to the team is freshman Brooke Hutto, and she combined with Hostetler to win the first three games of the 2016 season in shutout form.  Hutto also does not appear to be a power pitcher (3 K's and 2 BB's against 13 innings), but she is off to a nice start for sure.

So that ends our tour of the potential opponents this weekend.  Certainly some talent and potential pot holes for the Tigers to navigate, but when pressed for a prediction (as I am about to), how do you see the weekend turning out?

Switzy - While it's always dangerous to discount the possibility of a down game (or a flat-out upset), I really see the Tigers going 6-0 against this stretch of teams. I think Mizzou's offensive prowess is unlikely to meet much resistance against the staffs of these teams, and none of them quite have the firepower to worry me - assuming that both Tiger starters are healthy and ready to go. If either of them remains sidelined or limited (as in the Black and Gold game), that certainly changes things. The only other factor that troubles me is that the 6 games come in a 3 day stretch. But since these ladies have been playing doubleheaders since they turned teenagers, I suspect they'll be prepared.

What about your prediction? Anything catch your eye that didn't catch mine?

The Beef - I really cant disagree with you.  The only way I see a loss is if, and to your point, not all the pitchers are healthy or Coach E is really trying to keep the early innings off Lowary and Finucane and either Baxter or Baumgartner doesn’t have it and we cant come back.

Live Thread Stuff

Some helpful links for the weekend

  • Release
  • STATS vs. Jacksonville State @12:15pm 2/19
  • VIDEO vs. Jacksonville State
  • STATS vs. ELON @ 4:45pm 2/19
  • STATS vs. UAB @ 2:30pm 2/20
  • STATS vs. College of Charleston @ 4:45pm 2/20
  • STATS vs. Stephen F. Austin @ 9am 2/21
  • STATS vs. Stetson @ 11:15am 2/21
Weather in the Orlando area looks to be 70's/50's