The Beef - Well Switzy, at a high-level look, you cannot ask for much more from the opening weekend for our Tigers. Lots of run-rule wins full of offense and speed. And while our joyless misanthrope of a coach may choose to dwell on the negatives when asked, let's start with your three biggest positives from the weekend
Switzy - Pretty great weekend overall for the Tigers, as they got to tinker with lineups and give playing time to a variety of newcomers. It's a tall task to choose only three positives, but I'll give it a go. My criteria? Signs that Mizzou is poised to take the next step and get back to the WCWS.
1. Speed. 26 SB. 26 attempts. Taylor Gadbois and Regan Nash are the catalysts, each swiping seven bags over the weekend, but Sami Fagan contributed four and Emily Crane three, while four other Tigers had at least one steal. In softball, speed is nigh unstoppable; the "catcher whose arm no one wants to test" basically doesn't exist. Speed will be a key element of keeping opposing defenses uneasy all season, and should be a major factor in keeping the run production at a good level even when (as is inevitable) the BA starts to drop in the face of more dangerous competition.
2. Freshmen. Regan Nash hit .667 this weekend alongside her seven steals, scoring five runs. Rylee Pierce hit .476 with three HR, eight RBI, and 10 runs scored. Danielle Baumgartner threw two complete games and has a lovely scoreless innings streak to her credit. Youth, man.
3. Plate discipline. For speed to remain a factor, the ball has to be in play. The Tigers walked 27 times over the weekend while striking out only 17. Four regulars (Fagan, Nash, Crane, and Sanchez) didn't strike out a single time all weekend. And Taylor Gadbois, who struck out a little too often last year for a leadoff speedster, only had one.
Certainly you have a few thoughts of your own on the positives of this squad in the early-going. Once you've shared them, though, perhaps you can do your best Stubble impression and share some....areas of improvement to look for as the Tigers enter a more difficult phase of their non-conference schedule next weekend.
The Beef - I’ll follow the same criteria then and see what else I can add to the list.
Offensive Diversity – Some of this is obviously covered in your three, but the Tigers scored runs in a lot of different ways over the weekend. They manufactured some of them due to speed they put on display. They did some great station to station hitting and running, chaining together multiple hits in a row (and in some cases, with two outs in the inning). And of course, they also used the long ball throughout the weekend to help score three run-rule wins, two others by seven runs and average over nine runs per game.
Pressure Pitching – Displayed by both Paige Lowary and Danielle Baumgartner, there were times where Mizzou pitchers (some by their own fault, some not) had to work out of some early situations which may have given their opponent some confidence had they been able to push runs across. For those two, damage was always limited and/or avoided totally and the Tigers went on to dominate in those games.
Early Starts – In five of the six games from this past weekend, the Tigers scored at least one run. In the only game they did not, they scored two runs in the 2nd inning. When you are supposed to win, it helps to go out and start to take away any hope from the team you are playing. Scoring early and often as they did was like landing a gut punch to each opponent early on.
Offensive lines for the weekend: .375/55 runs/12 doubles/9 HR’s/50 RBI/26 SB
Pitching lines for the weekend: 1.14 ERA/2 CG/.219 BAA
So those areas of improvement let’s start in the field. The Tiger pitchers did have a lovely ERA of 1.14, but that was due (in part) to the Tigers committing enough errors to merit 4 unearned runs. 11 errors over 6 games (and really, over 5 games as they were clean against Stephen F. Austin) is way too much, especially if you have some pitchers who are pitching to contact or who are struggling a bit with control. Which brings us to the second point of improvement.
Pitching Control – 17 walks against 20 K’s. Certainly, I was not expecting huge strikeout numbers from someone like Baumgartner or Baxter or maybe even Finucane, but the struggles with the walks is certainly concerning. Both Baxter and Finucane were so wild they necessitated being removed (though Baxter did come back later in the weekend and provide a clean inning). Tough to complain too much about the effort from Paige Lowary, but I did expect to see some more swings and misses. Perhaps in time.
Was nice to see Fagan finish the weekend with a 2-4 effort against Stetson after having some pretty miserable games (by her standards) after she had led off her season with a HR. That offense will come, but Sami may need to learn to do more with less in terms of how many good pitches she sees per at bat or per game. Five walks is a good sign of that, but she’ll obviously need to do better than .214
So did anything else stick out for you which you’d hope would be better?
Switzy - I would also mention Tori Finucane. Coming back from a devastating injury suffered via line-drive to the face in last year's Super Regional loss to UCLA, she was already facing obstacles.In her brief appearance, she displayed very little control (walking 5 in only 2 innings) and didn't pitch again. Of course, she also was listed as having shin splints; it's difficult to say what was behind the poor performance. But there is no doubt that, for the Tigers to be the best they can be, Tori is going to have to reclaim at least some of the form that made her the ace of the staff two years ago.
The Beef – Alright, let’s draw a line in the sand here and when we come back tomorrow, we’ll preview the five teams which the Tigers are slated to take on this coming Thursday-Saturday (no Sunday games this weekend for Mizzou).