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The Heartbreak of Getting So Close

Missouri’s season ends just one win shy of making the WCWS

@MizzouSoftball twitter / Mizzou Athletics

In front of yet another record setting sell-out crowd of 2,686 (making it a total of 7,997 in attendance for the weekend), Missouri’s magical season came to an end as the James Madison Dukes advanced to their first ever Women’s College World Series with a 7-2 win over the Tigers. Missouri (42-17, most wins in a season since 2016) needed a perfect game to beat the Dukes, and there was just too much to overcome— too many stranded runners, too many uncharacteristic errors in the field, too many JMU players finally figuring out how to hit the Tiger aces. It was all just too much.

But you know what, I shouldn’t call it magical, because it wasn’t. Saying that implies this is some sort of make-believe. Because it’s more than that, and it’s something that can be replicated in the future. And WILL be replicated, if Coach Larissa Anderson has anything to say about it. What she has built here, and continues to build here, is special.

In an emotional post game press conference, Anderson, fighting back tears, said, “It’s tough. It’s real tough… It’s tough losing, it’s tough saying goodbye to seniors…. That’s what hurts me so much, is when your team does everything that you ask them to do, like ‘Coach, what do you want me to do, because I’ll do it’ while other people left and they come up short…. You hurt,” Anderson said. “You feel for them.”

As for the recap, I don’t have a ton to say. After striking first with a Brooke Wilmes homer to right, her fifth in six games, Mizzou seemed to be on the path to victory much like Saturday’s game, but that was the only run they scored until a Jenna Laird solo homer to center in the fifth. There were plenty of chances for the Tigers to tack on more runs, but they just couldn’t capitalize. In the first inning, just a few batters after Brooke got them on the board, Cayla Kessinger hit a single up the middle and a pass ball sent her to second. Kim Wert walked, sending Casidy Chaumont to the plate. But Casidy struck out, and what could have added a couple of insurance runs turned into just the one. Or, in the third, when Jenna Laird led off with a walk and then stole second, in perfect position to score on a well-placed ball, but Cayla struck out. Kim had a good at-bat and ended up at first after drawing a walk, leaving runners at first and second, but Casidy struck out again - looking this time - ending another possible rally. There was an occasional walk here and a random hit there, but the Tigers just couldn’t put anything solid together all day long.

So we must tip our hats to the better team today who took advantage of the Tigers’ miscues, and to the incredible pitching of RS- Senior Odicci Alexander, who pitched in every game of the NCAA Tournament thus far, and willed the Dukes to victory with both her pitching and her hitting in this game. After getting into some trouble early on, she was dominant on the mound, seemingly getting the Tigers to do whatever she wanted. And twice she came up to bat and got timely hits for her team, which is something the Tigers really needed themselves. Her infield hit in the fifth made it 3-1, and her hard line drive out to right-center in the seventh advanced her teammates on the bases, who eventually scored, making it 5-2.

For a team like Missouri, who prides itself on knockdown defense, today was an oddity; the Tigers just weren’t sharp when they desperately needed to be. Three costly errors in the field made them pay, putting more runs on the board for JMU and - in turn - putting more pressure on everyone to perform. The pitchers getting roughed up — 12 hits, 7 runs (5 earned), and 2 walks, to go with only 5 strikeouts — split between Jordan Weber, Laurin Krings and Emma Nichols — just added to the tense situation, but not one person is to blame for the loss today.

“Our pitchers,” Coach Anderson said, “They gave us a chance. They competed their butts off and gave us opportunities (this whole series). Today just caught up to us. We made some mistakes behind our pitchers today, and you can’t do that at this level.” She continued, “You can’t make mistakes like that against a quality team like JMU. It puts too much pressure on the pitchers. It puts too much pressure on the offense. There’s not an excuse for it. They know it. What the pitchers need to learn, though, is that there will be some mistakes, but you have to get through it and work through some outs.”

So this is it. The end. We say good bye to Cayla Kessinger and Hatti Moore. I only wish they could have been sent out on a happier note. Upon Hatti lining out to short to end the game, she collapsed at home plate. It was heartbreaking and she deserved a better ending. But we won’t forget her. She and Cayla both have done so much for this program.

It may hurt now, but the future is bright, Tiger fans, as the vast majority of this team will be back next season, and these players, some of whom have been through A LOT, got some very valuable experience. Laurin is only a freshman and Jordan is a sophomore, and they’re already this good on the mound. And Brooke and Kim are sticking around for an extra year of eligibility.

“The mentoring they (Brooke & Kim) have provided has been amazing,” Anderson said after the game. “But it’s the experience that the freshman players— the Jenna Lairds, the Riley Frizells, the Alex Honnolds, got that will help us in the future.”

One last thing, I’ll leave you with, from Dr. Scotta Morton, Assistant AD of Mental Performance, because it’s beautifully stated and an important reminder for the team, as they’re undoubtedly hurting.

M-I-Z. Can’t wait to see what this team does next.