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I’m not sure if I’ve ever been considered a softball fan, but I love watching this team.

As Mizzou fans we’re mostly conditioned, led to believe true excellence in sports isn’t attainable. We use our school as a verb for when things go awry.

But through a longstanding tradition of Rock M Nation and its general thesis, I feel the need to pivot here and talk again about what Mizzou Softball is, and what they can become. We’re going to get there in a roundabout way, by first talking about Football.

Hope is something roundly mocked when it comes to Mizzou Football or Mizzou Basketball, the two main money makers at the school. Yet here we have Eli Drinkwitz getting the commitment of another major prospect in 4-star and top 250 defensive tackle Marquis Gracial. He’s starting to instill hope.

Drink has four 4-star commitments in their 8 man class for 2022, and three of them are in the Rivals top 250. Incredibly, that doesn’t include multiple players with offers from Alabama. This is only 8 players in what is already looking like it could be Missouri’s second top 25 recruiting class. Something that has not happened, like... ever. So it begs the question, with only one season of football behind him, are Mizzou fans becoming almost unreasonably hopeful about Mizzou Football?

The cold reality part of this is it’s really difficult to crack into the top four of the SEC in Football. It’s achievable on an irregular basis, but for the most part we’ve just asked that they remain competitive. Don’t be Vanderbilt bad. But Drinkwitz is raising the expectations for the program with his recruiting success, and patching together a competitive season last year. Hope.

Despite my eternal optimism around Cuonzo Martin’s basketball program and Drinkwitz’s recruiting successes, the Softball program is the one that has me the most hopeful. I stayed glued to twitter and fought with WatchESPN trying to get a feed (I finally got the Spanish feed to work sporadically) trying to catch glimpses of Larissa Anderson’s scrappy bunch. Mizzou women's softball found themselves in the SEC Semifinals against the top-seeded Florida Gators. The upstart Tigers, a team playing a little ahead of schedule on the rebuild were the fourth seed, an underdog but playing well.

Early on there was hope which was doused by a three run 3rd inning by the Gators, followed by a couple more runs in the 5th. Mizzou found themselves down 5-1 heading into the 6th inning. But then you talk about the culture and you talk about Coach Anderson. She’s relentless, and instills that all through the roster.

I saw this tweet and I love it.

Being a coach it’s difficult to cut out the negativity which is pervasive in sports. Somewhere, someone isn’t playing and they’re unhappy about it. You can’t please anyone, but what you try to do, is get the right kinds of people into your program and get them all working together. If you have time, I recommend watching the basketball version of Last Chance U, where head coach John Mosley talked about everyone eating. When we win, we all eat. It’s a similar mentality which Anderson espouses above.

Sports are a good amount of joy sprinkled in with a large helping of disappointment.

With the Tigers trailing 5-1, they kept fighting. Pushing each other to do better. Top of the 6th inning a home run cuts the Gators lead to 3. Then the top of the 7th inning and a single scores a run cutting it to just 2. Sprinkle in the joy:

I reacted as you might expect... like a child experiencing cotton candy for the first time. Never knowing what was to come, and as a Missouri fan I should expect some level of disappointment, but I’ve seen the sad finish all too many times. Maybe Missouri scores enough late to make it less sad but it was still always meant to be one way.

Emma Raabe wasn’t interested in the slumped finish, if we’re going out... it’s with a bang. As she launched the ball over the fence, the feeling was different. Regardless of what was about to happen, Mizzou had made their statement. The program, the competition, the earnestness and determination was all on display.

Even as the lead dwindled and eventually faded with a reviewed call on a safe call instead of a force out at first base, even as All-World freshman Jenna Laird bobbled the ball giving up the base that led to the winning run crossing the plate... Larissa Anderson and her team made a statement: We won’t go away, and we’re just getting started.

The Tigers still have a shot to host a regional, and they deserve it. A top four SEC seed and taking one of the top five programs in the country to the wire is a signal to the rest of the country that Anderson’s program is onto something. They play a joyful and fierce brand of softball. And as somebody who has never been one to invest into the sport of softball... I really enjoy this team. And I can’t help but feel like this is just the first step.

If by any chance you want to see our softball coverage improve... please know that I do too. If you or someone you know wants to write about this awesome team, please let me know. These amazing women deserve more props.