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Mizzou Softball goes from one big weekend to an even BIGGER weekend

The competition level took a decent step up for the Tigers last weekend, as we recap their performance at the Mary Nutter Classic and start to look towards their biggest weekend of competition during this out of conference season

Sami Fagan continued her hot hitting last weekend
Sami Fagan continued her hot hitting last weekend
The Beef

The Beef - Well Switzy…the Tigers managed to go 3-2 on the weekend, which we thought was potentially possible, though I don’t know that either of us had it working out exactly like it did (nor rarely do we ever).  The offense continued (and even increased to an extent) its torrid pace, but the pitching had some hiccups along the way.  I’m sure we will get to all of that, as well as turning our focus to the biggest weekend of the "tournament" season for the Tigers as they stay west and throw down with some big-programs in Fullerton, CA starting Thursday afternoon.  Let’s kick it off, as we always do, with a few of the positives you saw come out of the Tigers’ second weekend of play.

Switzy - I think there's a lot of good to talk about with this team. But when I think about the results of this weekend, there's one thing that really sticks in my mind:

The Missouri Tigers are hard to beat. Stanford got it done, but it took a few highlight plays from their defense along with Mizzou leaving 9 runners stranded (compared to only 3 for Stanford). Oregon got it done, but it took coming back from a 7 run lead against a pitcher who probably shouldn't have been pitching and the application of one of the dumbest rules in all sports (the international tiebreaker rule used in early season tournaments that places a runner on 2nd to start each extra inning). These are the types of games I don't expect Mizzou to lose later in the season. I think the bounceback win against BYU was a good example of how seriously the Tigers are taking this season and how confident they feel. I very much expect to hear disappointment about the Oregon game repeatedly throughout the season - but as a motivational moment.

Also worth mentioning: the continued speed dominance (perfect on 36 attempts thus far), Danielle Baumgartner giving up only 2 runs in 3.1 innings against a top 10 opponent, Chloe Rathburn simply crushing everything (6 HR in 11 games!), fab frosh Rylee Pierce and Regan Nash, and .583-hitting Amanda Sanchez.

Care to put a finer point on any of that, Beef? Or add any of your own?

The Beef - The offense after eleven games against the overall decent mix of teams they have played is just amazing (though obviously still a small sample size).  But a TEAM hash line of .398/.487/.637 is pretty ridiculous.  You basically have seven starters hitting better than .367 at this point with five over .400 and Sanchez blistering the ball as you said is exciting for what the season could hold, which is that we will be in every game and win most of them.  The speed is fun at this point, and the flexibility is affords Coach E is pretty special (including Gadbois batting down the lineup a bit in a game or two).  I talked a bit about the offensive diversity last week, and I think this week proved it out again, as the Tigers hit more HR’s, strung together a bunch of hits and also manufactured some runs at times.

Alright, over to the not-so-pretty side, I was perplexed a bit by the offensive stagnation against Stanford in the second game on Thursday, especially coming off of the demolishing of NC State in the opener. Also, the fact the team got out to such a strong start offensively against Oregon, but ultimately stalled there to lose 8-7. Pitching and the injury to Lowary is obviously a part of that, but the team was crushing the ball all over the yard and then just tightened up. To your point however, it did make the return effort against BYU impressive.

The defense did improve, going from 11 errors over 6 games to 5 errors in 5 games this past weekend. .950 is still not a fielding percentage you are going to want to live with, as over ONE THIRD of the runs the Tiger pitching has given up have been unearned (11 of 32). Strikeouts did come up nicely, but the unearned runs I think goes back to a point I made before the season started. When you have a number of pitchers (and at this point, it is everyone but Lowary) who are not going to be mowing people down, the balls they get put into play have to be handled. That Baumgartner has given up only three earned runs is amazing. That she has given up five unearned runs is head scratching, but the likelihood of her getting the big K at the right time (10 K’s in 24 innings) is just not real high, so she needs the help.

Finally, nothing that I am TERRIBLY worried about at this point (considering the performance of Fagan, Rathburn and Pierce), but that Sanchez and Mack have combined only to hit two HR’s thus far is intriguing. Sanchez obviously is hitting everything but HR’s, but Mack has started slowly and if her bat can get right during this coming weekend, the Tigers will be tough to beat.

So tell me about where your concerns existed after the second weekend

Switzy - Well for starters, I have to agree that Mack's numbers are a bit concerning. She's the only full-time starter hitting below .300, and without power, she's not bringing much to the plate. But as you say, small sample size.

As you mention, even the struggles seem to be largely controlled and/or fixing themselves. There remain a few big question marks, though. First and foremost is the health (physical and/or mental) of Tori Finucane. She failed to pitch much this weekend - tallying only 6 innings over 2 appearances (1 start). Baumgartner is doing the job, but pitching depth is so key (and Finucane so talented) that it hurts to not have that depth we were so excited for available. As we shall see in our preview, the stakes grow even higher next weekend. Let's hope Tori can get a little more action and show some further improvement...worth noting that in her six innings of work, she gave up only 8 hits and 2 walks, but 3 of those hits were HR.

There's also a slight concern with 2nd base. Chase Nelson seems to have the lead in that spot, but Natalie Fleming has the experience and has seemed to flash superior leather. However, Fleming is also batting a weak .143 (2-14) so far. It would be nice to see someone lock that position down (Nelson is at .267; neither player is contributing power or speed) or at least make the platoon an all-upside coin flip where both players are doing well. Along that line, with only one weekend of early season tourney play remaining, I would like to start to see some solidity in the makeup of the lineup. I like how Coach E experiments early, but I think that many players react positively to knowing where they stand and getting into that routine. I would hope to see some more of that showing up soon.

So that covers Mizzou…what say we take a peek at this weekend's difficult schedule. It's another Thurs-Sat. set, with #2 Michigan and San Jose St. on the docket for Thursday, #25 California the lone game on Friday, then Arizona St. (#19) and Baylor (RV) for a concluding doubleheader on Saturday. Michigan is one heck of a way to start the weekend, as they are likely to end the season as the best team Mizzou will have faced. How do they look by the numbers, Beef?

The Beef - I will be honest, I feared they might be worse, but I see a few glimmers of hope here looking at Michigan.  On the season, they are currently 12-2, though they will have had a game against UCLA on Wednesday night before they get us Thursday early afternoon.  They do score a ton of runs for sure, with seven double-digit run outputs thus far on the early season.  They have six regulars who are hitting .300 or better, with four over .400 and Tera Blanco sitting in the top spot at a glistening .543 on the season.  The team has combined for 24 HR’s in their 14 games ,so you can count on a long ball or two , with Sierra Romero leading the way with 6 (on top of a .447 batting average).  There is a little speed, with the team going 13-16 (Romero and Abby Ramirez with three apiece and Sierra Lawrence leading the way with five).  They do a good job controlling the plate (52 BB’s against 43 K’s) and a slash line of .353/.445/.612 shows they are just about as strong as you might think.  And you cannot complain about the defense they have shown thus far, with only seven error and a fielding percentage of .970.

Looking at their competition thus far, we do share a common opponent in NC State, who take took care of in similarly easy fashion with a 9-1 (5) win. They are also can boast of two wins over then #13 Florida State (6-2, 10-3) and a win over then #12 Oklahoma (16-9…wow). But with losses against Florida (8-0 in 5 innings) and Washington (6-5), I have a feeling you are going to tell me their pitching is not off to a great start.

Switzy - They certainly aren't off to a start that makes you sit up and take notice. The team ERA is a somewhat pedestrian 3.10, and their two main pitchers have combined to walk 50 batters in around 75 innings. They do get strikeouts - around 1.5/inning - but have also been damaged by 9 HR allowed. While senior Sara Driesenga carries the sparkling 8-0 mark, she also has allowed opponents to put up a .258 batting average. Meanwhile, junior Megan Betsa has a lovely .192 BAA, but the higher ERA (3.11) thanks to 6 HR and 28 walks allowed in 36 innings. The Michigan pitchers can be hit, but if the game becomes a slugging duel, I think that has to favor the Wolverines. My best guess is that Driesenga takes the circle to face Mizzou.

After that big contest, Mizzou gets their lightest opponent of the tourney in San Jose State. The Spartans have started the season 5-11, including losses to common opponents BYU (8-0 in 5 innings) and Stanford (9-3). As a team, they are batting a respectable .298, but with only 3 players above the .350 mark, and only 1 of those who has played all 16 games. San Jose relies on station-to-station offense dominated by singles - and their averages simply aren't going to score them many runs. The team doesn't have the luxury of speed (11-12 on SB so far) or power (only 7 HR and 22 doubles). They walk and strike out at relatively average levels, so this is a team basically designed to test your defense. Hopefully Mizzou's fielders are up to the task.

A quick glance shows me that SJSU has suffered 5 run rule losses in this young season. That can't bode well for their pitching staff...

The Beef - Geez…it really has been feast or famine with San Jose State, with the aforementioned five run-rule losses, but four run-rule wins.  Nine shortened games out of 16 means they should be fresh?

Anyway, you are right about the pitching, and this one likely has the potential to get ugly. The top starter on the team is Chantelle Ladner, who is 3-4 in 6 starts (8 appearances) with a 6.34 ERA. She has given up 49 hits and 11 walks over 32.2 innings, which is pretty much 2 baserunners per frame, with 13 Ks. Opponents are batting .358 against her. Having seen that San Jose State has committed 23 errors, I would have believed that her earned runs/runs would have been throw off, but to my surprise, the entire staff has only given up 12 unearned runs (of the 115 total). Behind Ladner is Katelyn Linford, who has 5 starts and is 0-4 with a 11.10 ERA. In total, the Spartans have five pitchers who have thrown more than 8 innings on the season, two of whom have opponent batting averages of over .400. Surprisingly, the staff has given up 14 HR’s, which is actually just less than one per game, so at least they keep the ball in the yard. Opponents are 10-15 with stolen bases, so I imagine the Tigers may push the issue early and often and try to end this one early.

Let’s pause here and bring it back tomorrow with the preview of the final three teams from the weekend.