Under the boiling hot sun and in front of a crowd of around 2,300, the Tigers set out to make it back to the Super Regionals for the first time since 2016, and with a fabulous pitching performance, some ridiculous defensive plays, and timely hitting, Missouri is officially IN, beating Iowa State 5-0.
Starting pitcher Jordan Weber, who pitched a complete game, one hit shutout Friday was back on the mound for the Tigers, while Iowa State countered with Saya Swain, who - in her previous start vs. Mizzou this season - threw five shutout innings.
The “visiting” Tigers batted first, and wasted no time at all getting the offense going. Senior Brooke Wilmes led off with a walk, which was followed by a Jenna Laird grounder that left her safe at first on a fielder’s choice. Hatti Moore continued her hot streak, doubling to center field, bringing in Jenna to score. The top half of the inning ended with two flyouts, and the Tigers were up 1-0. In the bottom half of the inning, Jordan walked the lead off batter for the Cyclones, but from there, settled in very quickly, tallying her first two strikeouts (of many) in the game.
In the second inning, the Tigers continued their offensive onslaught against a new pitcher, Karlie Charles— Swain was removed in the first after some concern with her windup, from my understanding. Emma Raabe walked, and was replaced by pinch runner, Hannah MacGivern, who then stole second. Following a flyout, she then tagged up and ended up at third. Abby George then slapped a little grounder to the pitcher, scoring Hannah, and suddenly it was 2-0. But they weren’t done. With some savvy base running, Abby stole second, and then went to third on a passed ball. Brooke Wilmes singled to center, bringing Abby in, and it was 3-0 to end the top half of the inning.
The bottom half of the inning brought about the first of several web gems (you watching, SportsCenter?) as Kim hopped up on the dugout railing to snag a foul ball, and Jordan got her 3rd strikeout.
The top of the third inning started with a couple of walks, which drove the ISU replacement, Charles, out of the game, and they brought in Ellie Spelhaug to keep it going . She immediately walked Hatti, who was replaced by pinch runner, Kendal Cook. Kendyll Bailey stepped up to the plate and the first pitch was wild, scoring Cook, making it 4-0 for the Tigers. The bottom half of the inning ended with the Cyclones getting on base with a walk, but that was it.
While the top of the fourth brought about nothing for the Tigers — the replacement pitcher for ISU was doing quite well, web gem #2 happened in the bottom of the inning when Abby George made a diving catch on a liner to right, trapping the ball with the heel of her glove. I mean... what?!?
The top half of the fifth inning did nothing for Mizzou yet again, as they weren’t able to get anyone aboard, aside from a walk from Cayla Kessinger. In the bottom of the fifth, though, we witnessed yet ANOTHER web gem, #3 of the game, this time from SS Jenna Laird. Wow. Jordan added on two more strikeouts in the frame to bring her running total to 5.
Aside from the walks, Spelhaug, as mentioned earlier, had really clamped down on the Tigers’ offense, and retired 11 of the last 12 batters she faced. Both Missouri and Iowa State went scoreless (and hitless, and didn’t even leave home, actually) in the sixth.
Spelhaug’s stranglehold on the Tigers’ offense was removed in the top of the seventh, however, as Brooke, who had homered in the first two games of the series, did it again, smashing one over the fence to right field, making it 5-0. Jenna lined out to short, and Hatti, who was 7-9 in the series, singled up the center. Kim followed that up with a single, but the Tigers weren’t able to plate another run (and obviously didn’t need it).
Missouri just needed those last three outs to secure their Super Regionals berth, and Jordan came back out to the mound on a whole ‘nother level: flyout, strikeout #6, and another strikeout — #7 on the day — swinging. Catcher Hatti Moore triumphantly ran out to the pitcher’s mound to jump onto Jordan Weber, who had just thrown the Tigers’ first no-no since Chelsea Thomas did it in 2011(!!). In the post game presser, when asked about her feelings when the game was over, Hatti said, “ I hugged Jordan but couldn’t wait to celebrate with my teammates... We actually practiced celebrating the other day (like what they would do if such-and-such happened to win the game).” Jordan later told reporters she was in shock (at the ending), but so excited “and just saw Hatti running at me.”
Coach Larissa Anderson also had effusive praise for her starter after the game, and that it really was a no-brainer to get her another start given the match up with Iowa State.
To the highlights!
Y’all, I want you to just take a moment to think about what the Tigers did this weekend.
THREE SHUTOUTS. THREE COMPLETE GAMES. TWO HITS ALLOWED. IN A NCAA REGIONAL.
Let that sink in. And to think people doubt this pitching staff? It’s true. In the post game, Coach Anderson said, “We allowed two hits this entire regional. People have said we’re an offensive team, but haven’t paid attention to the pitcher.” She continued, “We’ve always been the underdog. Even when we shouldn’t be, we still are. We have nothing to lose and still we just go in and give it all we’ve got. (You would think) this will make a huge impact on how people see us. What our pitching staff accomplished this weekend, I’ve never been a part of anything like this.”
Next up for the Tigers? A best of three set against James Madison, who beat Liberty 8-5 to earn their ticket to Supers on Sunday. The Dukes, out of the CAA, is a team very familiar to Coach Anderson and some of her staff, as they play in the same conference as her former school, Hofstra. Said Anderson of the matchup, “The softball gods always have a way to figure it out. We played them in Florida (Clearwater, in Feb. 2020) and they beat us (8-7 in extra innings)... They have an unbelievable offense and a deep pitching staff.”
It will be a tough task for sure, as the Dukes are on a 27-game win streak, and finished their regular season 37-1, having not lost since March 27. The Tigers are ready, though. Coach Anderson said the reaction in the locker room, while celebratory, quickly went to an “on to the next game” mentality.
“These upperclassmen have left their legacy and their mark. But now we’re going to focus on James Madison coming up,” Anderson said. She continued, talking about how the team has been through a lot, referencing the ups and downs they’ve faced, but that they will do anything asked of them, and vice versa.
I remember when we got the news saying we weren’t eligible for post season last year. Look at us now, 4th in the SEC, #8 National Seed, hosting regionals, now Regional Champs, and now on to hosting Supers. It feels so damn good to finally be in control of our own story— caykess (@caylakessinger) May 24, 2021
The fans are ready, too as Coach Anderson and the players post-game each talked about the impact of having them there. “It (having fans there) added to the energy. When you hear the M-I-Z chant and you know the fans are behind you, it does something. And it’s tough for the opponents to overcome, because they’re used to playing 20% capacity.”
Hatti added on to this statement, saying, “(The fans) had a huge impact. That many of them and to be so loud all weekend. That’s the best games we’ve ever been a part of. It’s nice to have fans that are so into the game with you.”
We can’t wait. What a series. What a team. I’ll keep you updated with all your hot softball content throughout the week. Don’t forget, tickets go on sale to the general public at 4pm on Tuesday!!!
Disclaimer: Karen is not a professional softball writer. She stopped playing softball in 8th grade. So while she enjoys watching it from time to time, and has enjoyed writing about it because this team kicks ass, it’s possible some terminology may not be the best.