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Mizzou Forces Game 3 on Long Ball

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The Tigers got to Odicci Alexander early and often, and they are one win away from the WCWS

@MizzouSoftball twitter / Mizzou Athletics

In front of another record breaking sell-out crowd of 2,679 at Mizzou Softball Stadium, the Missouri Tigers took on the James Madison Dukes for Game Two of the Super Regional on a gorgeous Saturday evening. Laurin Krings, the freshman phenom who threw a compete game shutout and one-hitter in Game Two of the Regionals, was on the mound for the Tigers, and the Dukes brought back out their bionic arm of an ace, RS-Senior Odicci Alexander, who threw a 125-pitch complete game in their 2-1 winner Friday night.

Truthfully, I expected much of the same on Saturday that we witnessed on Friday — a pitcher’s duel, but the Tigers got to Alexander this time around, which was super surprising, but is clearly an indication of a good team— you make adjustments. And adjust they did, as the Tigers pounced early and often. When asked what accounted for the dramatically different approach, Coach Anderson insisted in the postgame, “We had a better game plan going in. We weren’t trying to hit every single pitch.”

A great game plan is one thing, but I’d also like to point out that the Tigers were wearing gold pants, which, if you have followed Rock M Nation for long, you know that gold pants (though often used in a football uni context) translates to, “clear eyes, gold pants, can’t lose.” Them’s some WINNING pants, y’all, so we all should have immediately known this was going to be a good game.

The “visiting” Tigers led off the game, and while they came out of the top half of the first inning scoreless on three consecutive fly-outs, you could sense something was different. Missouri got some solid contact on the ball and they weren’t swinging at pitches outside of the zone like Friday. In the bottom of the inning, Laurin Krings (AKA “Specs”) got it started on the right foot, with a flyout, a ground out, and a strikeout.

Remember when I said something was ‘different’? Well, the top of the second was… incredible. Kim Wert led off with a really good at-bat, fouling off a first pitch that would have seemingly hit the Hearnes Center had it not veered foul, and she followed it up with a hard liner, which also veered foul, before ultimately striking out. Cayla Kessinger was up next and dammmmmnnnnnnn— she hit a BOMB to right field, and suddenly the Tigers were up 1-0 and Mizzou Softball Stadium was ROCKING.

And the Tigers weren’t close to being done. Next up, Casidy Chaumont hit a single to left, then Emma Raabe walked. Abby George hit a grounder to short and reached on an error by the first baseman, which scored Casidy. With runners on first and second, Brooke Wilmes smacked a home run to left, scoring everyyyybody, and suddenly it was 5-0 Missouri. IN THE SECOND INNING. Jenna Laird then came up to the plate and doubled to straightaway center off the wall, and forced JMU starter Odicci Alexander from the game after just 1.2 innings and 5 unearned runs.

The Dukes then brought in their other ace, Alissa Humphrey, and her first batter, Hatti Moore, sent a pop up into shallow left that dropped down. Hatti was called out trying to take an extra base, but not before Jenna scored. At the end of the top half of that whirlwind inning, it was 6-0 Missouri, and everything was clicking.

In the bottom of the second, with James Madison finally up to bat, they got their first hit of the game on a single up the middle by Logan Newton, but JMU was unable to capitalize. A fielder’s choice left Madison Naujokas at first, who subsequently stole her 24th base of the season (out of 24 attempts), but a strikeout — number three from Laurin — ended the inning.

In the top of the third, Mizzou again made its presence known. Kim struck out to start the inning, but Cayla, who was ON FIRE this game, launched a home run to center — no. 36 in her career and no. 14 on season — and it was 7-0 Missouri.

In the bottom of the third… this happened, making it five in a row for Specs.

Not much happened offensively for the Tigers after that, but it didn’t much matter, given what they’d accomplished earlier. Abby blooped a single over the third baseman’s head in the top of the fourth inning, and Cayla walked in the top of the fifth inning, but nothing came out of it, either.

In the bottom of the fourth and fifth, Laurin continued to work it, striking out two in the fourth — no. 7-8 on the evening — and helping to induce a nifty 6-4-3 double play in the fifth.

With limited time remaining to try and run-rule the Dukes, Missouri tried to get the offense going again against Humphrey, but aside from a single by Brooke in the 7th inning, nothing accumulated. The Dukes, however, tried to make things interesting when down to their final at-bats in the 7th, as Sara Jubas doubled down the left field line and advanced to third on an Alexander fly out. Newton then doubled to left-center, scoring Jubas and making it 7-1. But that’s all she wrote, as Naujokas grounded out to the pitcher and Lynsey Meeks struck out.

In the post-game, Coach Larissa Anderson praised her freshman phenom, Laurin Krings, saying, “To get that out of a freshman is just incredible. She had great command and a great rhythm. To have such great composure… we can rely on her.” Laurin’s stat line tonight? 7 innings, 4 hits, 1 run, and 10 strikeouts in a complete game effort.

Laurin said after the game that she tried not thinking about the gravity of the situation— win or go home. “Going into this game,” she said, “I was just trying to think of this like any other game.” When asked how getting the 6-spot up in the 2nd helped after Friday’s tense game. “It made the game more lax,” she said. “The energy that came out of that second inning was amazing. I’ve never played in a crowd that big. It lightened the load a lot.”

The Missouri Tigers team we saw Saturday night is the team fans had become accustomed to seeing, playing with passion and firing on all cylinders offensively. Coach Anderson talked about the team’s bounce-back performance in the post-game, saying before the game started, she told the whole team that “they can’t get yesterday back in one at-bat” and that they have to play the game in front of them right now. “When the team gets like that,” she said, “I just have to refocus them and stay in control.”

While the team as a whole did great on Saturday, it was perhaps Cayla Kessinger’s performance that stood out a bit above the rest, hitting two home runs. On her performance against Alexander, Cayla said, “I wasn’t going to let her beat me again. She’s a good pitcher— don’t get me wrong. But I was getting a good piece of the barrel on the ball.” She continued, when asked about the energy in the stadium, “The energy is CRAZY. There’s nothing better than hugging your teammates after a homerun. But it’s not just my homerun. We’re doing this for the fans. For each other.”

As for Sunday’s matchup, which will determine the Tigers’ WCWS fate, the team is ready to face Odicci again. The Tigers are prepared, and Anderson mentioned that their performance on Saturday against her “gives them confidence that they can execute in their favor.” Cayla said, in reference to Saturday’s game — and it rings true for Sunday’s match up as well— “We can’t play with the fear of losing. Kendyll pulled us together at the start of the game and reminded us we just have to play good softball. That as a team, if we show out as a team and focus on ourselves and no one else, we’re going to play good softball.”

This sounds like a great plan. If they focus on themselves and no one else, I’m confident they’ll get another win and be headed to Oklahoma for the WCWS.

Check out the highlights!

Let’s go, Tigers! #OwnIt