Welcome back to This Week in Mizzou Softball, folks.
Since last we spoke, the Tigers' fortunes have been on the rise. Two weekends ago, they faced then-#16 Texas A&M at home in CoMo. Despite the Aggies' potent offense, the Tigers were able to find success in the circle, limiting A&M to only 8 runs in the three game series. Coach E employed a new strategy of starting Lowary in the opening game, Baumgartner in the 2nd, and then little-use Cheyenne Baxter in the series finale. Lowary actually was hit the hardest, as Baumgartner and Baxter were able to flummox the Aggie hitters with their changeups. Take a peek at these official recaps:
Fresh off of that much needed sweep, Mizzou promptly cancelled their only remaining non-con games: a double-header against SEMO. These types of schedule changes are not uncommon in softball, as coaches make late decisions about mid-week games based on team needs.
The Tigers then headed to Starkville for a matchup with Mississippi St., whose 3-15 record in SEC play entering the weekend was 2nd worst in the conference. And yet, despite that record, the Bulldogs were a top 35 team in RPI, because that's how good the SEC is. Oddly, the Bulldogs managed to score exactly the number of runs against Mizzou that A&M scored the previous weekend, despite entering the game with a team batting average a solid 80 points lower than the Aggies (and worst in the conference). Mizzou attempted the same 3-pitcher strategy, but it was blown up almost immediately as Cheyenne Baxter walked her first two hitters and was pulled in favor of Paige Lowary. Tori Finucane also returned to the lineup, pitching the final inning of game 3, walking one but allowing no hits. Here's recaps:
Game 1: Mizzou 8, Mississippi St. 5
Game 2: Mizzou 3, Mississippi St. 1
Game 3: Mizzou 9, Mississippi St. 2
Postseason: How Does That Work?
Combined with the DH sweep of Iowa a few weeks ago, the Tigers are now on an 8-game win streak, their 2nd longest of the season. More importantly, their 6 consecutive SEC victories have placed them currently in the 6th spot in SEC standings. The top 4 teams get a bye; while it is theoretically possible for the Tigers to end up 4th, it is extremely unlikely due to who the teams ahead of them are playing.
Securing the 6 seed for the SEC tourney would be a great result for the Tigers, as they would lead off against the tournament's #11 seed (likely a repeat performance of the upcoming weekend's matchup with South Carolina). A win in that game would propel Mizzou into a game against the #3 seed, which would be an opportunity to boost their NCAA tournament credentials.
With one weekend and the SEC tournament left, it's tough to say just how things will shape up for the regional/super-regional rounds of the NCAA tournament. However, Mizzou currently stands at #10 in RPI, and at 14/16 in the polls - a solid situation to gain a seed and host a regional round. Regional rounds are hosted by the top 16 seeds in the tournament, and feature a double-elimination round-robin format. Winners of the regionals move on to super-regional play, where the top 8 seeds are guaranteed to host as long as they win their regionals. Super-regionals are a best of 3 matchup.
The Tigers' 6-game SEC win streak has been the result of some very solid play throughout the lineup. Here's a quick glance at some of the key players' performances over the last couple of weekends.
Emily Crane: 10/22, 7 runs, 3 RBI, 3 SB, 3 doubles, 1 HR
Sami Fagan: 10/18, 5 runs, 6 RBI, 1 SB, 1 HR, 6 walks
Kirsten Mack: 8/20, 3 runs, 3 RBI, 1 SB, 1 double
Rylee Pierce: 6/16, 3 runs, 4 RBI, 2 SB, 1 double, 1 HR
Paige Lowary: 4-0 record, 26.1 IP, 19 hits, 11 runs, 15 BB, 17 K, 5 HBP
Danielle Baumgartner: 1-0 record, 11.2 IP, 13 hits, 2 runs, 3 BB, 8 K
Previewing South Carolina
The Tigers final regular season weekend comes at home against the South Carolina Gamecocks. SC enters the weekend at 6-15 in SEC play, but 34-18 overall and ranked 27th in RPI. On the season, the Gamecocks are hitting .306 as a team but do not exhibit a great deal of power (29 HR, .438 Slg%). They do have an impressive 74 doubles (compared to Mizzou's 58). SC also doesn't swipe bags too often; they have 50 SB in 61 attempts on the year. They are led offensively by junior 1B Kaylea Snaer, who bats .376 with an incredible 24 doubles. She also has 5 HR and is 2nd on the team in RBI with 37. Alexis Mack and Alaynie Page are the top speedsters on the team, with 14 and 15 SB respectively, and both hit in the .360s. Page also provides the most pop on the team, with 9 HR and 40 RBI.
In the circle, juniors Nickie Blue and Jessica Elliot split the work for the Gamecocks and have fairly similar numbers. Blue has the most IP, with 173.1, and carries a 2.67 ERA. She has only 111 strikeouts, and has walked 70 batters, while allowed an OBA of .231. Elliot has 157 IP at a 2.72 ERA. She displays even wilder tendencies than Blue, also striking out 111 batters, but while allowing 97 walks. Elliot has also hit 23 batters on the season and thrown 13 WP.
The Tigers are a confident bunch right now, and this SC team is not quite at their level. Add in the home field advantage, and I like the chances of Mizzou completing a 3rd consecutive sweep in SEC play to close out the SEC season. It's important to note, however, that 2 wins will be sufficient to lock up the number 6 seed for the SEC tournament. If the Tigers can pull off the sweep, though, it will be interesting to look at other weekend results to see just where Mizzou will stand in the polls and the RPI as they enter the start of postseason play.