For the second year in a row and the third time since 2016, Mizzou Softball will host a Regional matchup in the NCAA Tournament. After a pretty messy middle part of season, the Tigers are trending way up, and they find themselves hosting once again.
To get fans amped up for the game on Friday, I thought I’d gather The Pressbox Crew (trademark pending), and conduct a little softball roundtable about the season thus far, our predictions, and some other fun topics. Joining me are the Missourian’s Chris Blake, The Maneater’s Brandon Haynes, new J School grad/KOMU’s Kayler Smith, and PowerMizzou’s Cole Lee, who’ve covered softball with me all season in the smallest press box ever, as well as softball lover/WBB writer for Rock M, Lauren Rosenberg.
Thank you, friends. Let’s get started.
Mizzou burst into the SEC Tournament and took down some of the conference’s best teams in rapid succession over the weekend. Are you surprised by the results? Did you see them making it that far? What were you most impressed by? Worried about?
Cole Lee, PowerMizzou: I think the pitching had been waiting for their moment and they stepped up in a big way. I’m surprised they pulled off three shutouts on the way, but I’m not surprised they showed up to play. Weber and Krings pushed the squad to a new level. The defense, particularly in the middle, was astounding and I hope that they continue it in the Columbia Regional.
Brandon Haynes, The Maneater: I think throughout the season we saw Missouri compete with some of the nation’s best teams, so I had the belief that the team could challenge anyone they faced. However, to shut out three of the SEC’s best in a row was not something I expected from the pitching staff. Like Cole said, the defense impressed and displayed why they are one of the nation’s top defensive teams. Even with the high-quality results though, the offense has to find a way to remain consistent and drive in runs.
Chris Blake, Columbia Missourian: Considering how tough the SEC is, it was going to be difficult for any team to make a run in the tournament, but Missouri had as good a chance as any team considering how it finished the regular season. Stellar pitching and defense masked some offensive struggles, but the Tigers faced some of the best pitchers in the country in Maddie Penta, Montana Fouts, Erin Edmoundson and Chenise Delce.
Kayler Smith, KOMU: I think the only thing that surprised me was making it to the championship. However, it was not surprising to me to see the breakout they had during the tournament. Talking to the players and Coach Anderson since day one, you see the fire and the passion they have to make it far, and we saw last year that they know how to really turn it on when it matters. Jordan Weber and Laurin Krings impressed me in the circle considering their fairly high conference ERAs. They handled themselves very well, just like we saw last postseason. What worries me is our pitching depth. What happens when a team times up Weber or Krings? Who do you pass the ball off to to take care of business? There’s no clear answer in my mind.
Lauren Rosenberg, Fan/Rock M Nation: I can honestly say I was not surprised. They really had extra motivation after being robbed by the umpires in that Alabama game. Sure they lost the next game, but it was a dog fight. I think that series really sparked something in them, especially because the team runs on the underdog mentality. They’re peaking at the right time to make the title game.
Karen Steger, Rock M Nation: Honestly, yes, I was surprised they made it that far. I was so sure they weren’t going to make the SEC title game, I took someone’s shift at work, and then had to work some magic to actually get to watch the game, so I love that they made me look like a fool. That being said, I was most impressed by the defense – all those double plays saved so many runs – and the pitching performance, as well as Jenna Laird’s hot hitting. But, like Kayler said, what happens if they figure Weber and/or Krings out? We know something happened in the first inning of the title game that took Specs out of the game. How will the Tigers adjust?
Flashback to mid to late-March when Mizzou was losing… a lot (the UT series, the Mizzou Classic debacle, the mess in Oxford, that kU game, etc). At that point, where did you see the season going?
CL: In a Twitter Space before the Georgia series, I initiated a question of how many wins the Tigers needed to maintain their spot in the tournament picture. I am quite the pessimist when it comes to sports, but I’ve always had confidence that the team has the pieces to compete. It was just about pulling all of the phases together, which is why they’ve begun to fire on all cylinders in the past few weeks.
BH: Missouri’s early season success showed that the Tigers had what it takes to compete against any program. However, during that rough stretch in March, I had serious questions about their ability to turn it back around. Between the loss (that should have been a win) to Northwestern, an unflattering loss to Ball State and an offensive dud against Ole Miss, my confidence wavered into the thought that the Tigers would at-most be a “bubble team”. As history now shows, I was proven wrong.
CB: It was tough to see the turnaround coming. I never worried Missouri would miss the tournament, but what was happening was concerning, and it was especially strange given how similar this year’s team is to last year’s. I didn’t know what to expect, but at that moment it was clear our initial expectations needed to be adjusted.
KSm: I never doubted that Missouri would end up in the tournament, however the non-conference losses brought up concerns. I saw us dropping out of the rankings right after the loss to kU, however we stayed in after a good conference series sweeping South Carolina. I knew the goals and dreams of the players to host a Super Regional again were lost, and I doubted their ability to even host a Regional. The turning point for me was certainly Kentucky.
LR: I’m a person that naturally sees the good in losses and slumps. Coach Anderson recently mentioned that the team doesn’t play well when ranked so high. I think them sliding down in the rankings and eventually going unranked made them a lot more confident. I saw the season going up. The team is full of veteran players who have experience; they just needed the extra confidence boost.
KS: I figured they’d still make the tourney somehow; they’re just too talented and have too much firepower not to, but I didn’t think they had a chance in hell to host after that stretch. I think I even turned off at least one of the Ole Miss games, honestly. The team had lost its mojo at that point, and as Coach said, they were too focused on last year. But through it all, I still had faith they’d be able to turn it around because even in some of those losses, I could see some good stuff. They hadn’t given up.
When did you start to think, “Hey, they might turn this thing around?” Do you think the committee got it right by rewarding Missouri?
CL: When I was driving back to Columbia on a lonely Sunday night, I kept getting updates about how the team stayed in a firefight against Kentucky and managed to win and take the series, even with both teams almost scoring double-digit runs. That was probably when I began to believe that the team was moving in the right direction. I absolutely think that the committee was right. If you erase the Alabama series and give the team two or three runs in the championship game, they would be the hottest team in college softball. They’re in a proving stage and they’re turning heads already.
BH: The sweep against Kentucky obviously caught my attention, but I’m going to say Missouri’s first game against Alabama, where the Tigers prevailed 3-2 in extra innings. I think this is the game where Missouri told itself that it could take down the best and it led to that infamous game three. (Still not a home run, @SEC)
CB: The team looked much better in the Georgia series, but everything wasn’t quite clicking yet. The next weekend, everything came together at the highest level when Missouri swept then-No. 9 Kentucky on the road and captured two run-rule wins in the process. A couple players have said the Kentucky series was the turnaround, and it’s hard to disagree with them. And yes, the selection committee did get it right seeding the Tigers inside the top 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
KSm: As I stated before, Kentucky was the clear turnaround for me. You don’t go to Lexington and sweep the Wildcats in that fashion on a whim. Something clearly changed in the clubhouse. Pitching tightened up, the bats got going again. Having beaten No. 6 Alabama once, and what should have probably been twice in their series (because of the muffed home run call on the field), and then going on to beat them and Tennessee in the tournament, I thought it was clear that this was a team that deserved to be high in the RPI and host a Regional. That’s the beauty of the SEC; you can make up ground FAST.
LR: There are a few moments that really made me believe the team was going to turn it around. One of them being Game 2 in the Georgia series. I was driving three hours back home and had the game broadcast on. Although I wasn’t able to watch the game live, hearing the background noise from the Mizzou faithful and the excitement on the broadcast with all five homers was enough for me to know this team would turn it around sooner rather than later. I think the committee realized they couldn’t ignore Mizzou’s late season push and success to not reward them with a Regional host.
KS: I am ecstatic that the committee listened to my heart and the team and rewarded them for their late-season push. It almost makes me believe in the RPI. As for when I thought they’d turned it around, I think it was Georgia for me. Yeah, they only won one of those games, but something seemed to be different. They looked more like themselves in that series. Sweeping then-no. 9 Kentucky just confirmed it.
Mizzou faces Missouri State on Friday, and if they win, they’ll face either Arizona or Illinois (for the third time this season). What are your predictions for the Columbia Regional?
CL: The pessimist in me says that they’ll make it to game three without losing and face Arizona. I think they’re definitely going to be the best team in the regional and should win, but I’m not going to put away the idea that they might drop a game to an Arizona team that is fighting for survival. Give me the Tigers, though.
BH: I’m going with a clean sweep. Missouri’s pitching will continue its recent dominance, while its bats do enough to outlast Mo State, Illinois and Arizona. The home field advantage and warmer weather will motivate the Tigers to keep their season going.
CB: The Tigers are the favorite to win the Columbia Regional, and I think they’ll do just that. Arizona will likely play Missouri close, but my prediction is the Tigers advance to the Super Regionals without suffering a loss.
KSm: The chance for a sweep is there, especially with the anticipated home crowds. But I think they’ll have to beat Arizona twice overall to make it out.
LR: I think home field advantage will enable Mizzou to sweep the regional. Arizona is a tough school to play, assuming Mizzou defeats Missouri State. Mizzou is still riding on high momentum despite the title game loss. I believe all that is enough to get them out of this regional with a sweep.
KS: I think they make it out without a loss. Maybe one of the games (against Arizona?) will go to extras, but Mizzou will walk it off. Mizzou is hot at the best time of the year, so I just can’t wait for it to get started. Arizona is a really good offensive team, so it will be important when Missouri faces them to keep the Wildcat bats contained.
If you had it your way, looking at the bracket, which Super Regional would you prefer Missouri to be in should (when) they advance?
CL: Not the Norman one. This one is perfectly fine. I’m also content that we didn’t end up heading to Stillwater, which was a possibility, as the Cowgirls have got it going right now. They just proved that they can compete with the best of them.
BH: Honestly, this is the one. I think Blacksburg with Virginia Tech would be my other choice, but Missouri has shown it can compete with the best and won’t back down against a strong Florida State team.
CB: Blacksburg or Tuscaloosa. As someone who’s from Virginia, I’d love to see the Tigers and Hokies battle it out with a trip to the World Series on the line, especially given how close their game was at the beginning of the season. On the other hand, if you’re trying to make someone a college softball fan, you show them Missouri’s series against Alabama from the end of the regular season. Sign me up for another series between those two teams.
KSm: Probably Tuscaloosa. Mizzou and others have proven Alabama is beatable.
LR: Give me Norman! Okay, not actually. I’d love to see them go to Seattle to face Washington again. They defeated the Huskies early in the season at the Mary Nutter Classic. Remember, Washington was ranked 5th overall and Mizzou defeated them 10-0 in 5 innings. Who’s to say they can’t do it again!
KS: I know Florida State is the no. 2 overall seed, but I like the Super Regional Mizzou was placed in. Our regional opponents are beatable, and I don’t want to go anywhere near Fayetteville or Norman. Though I also would have been okay with Blacksburg since the Tigers have seen the Hokies and Keely Rochard already and it was very close game.
How far do you think this team can go in the NCAA Tournament? What do the Tigers need to do to make it happen?
CL: This is a Super Regional team. Florida State is beatable, but the Tigers absolutely need to fix their offense before that series if they want any shot at the WCWS. All year long, it’s been about the pitching. Now, it’s the offense. The chances of winning a title while scoring one or two runs per game is slim-to-none. Thankfully, they have a number of games before they have to worry about the Seminoles.
BH: Yes, the offense needs work. However, I think this team is destined for the WCWS and will work through its regional before upsetting Florida State. From there, they will likely face one of the Oklahoma teams, which is where the season may come to an end. I still wouldn’t count this bunch out though because who knows what they will have in store after bringing out both the Lucky Charms and Richie.
CB: They’re hosting regionals, so they should be the favorite to come out of that group. If they do win the Columbia Regional, a matchup with Florida State likely looms, which would be difficult to overcome. If Jordan Weber and Laurin Krings keep dominating in the circle like they did in the SEC Tournament and the offense slugs home runs like it has all season, Missouri has a chance to make it to Oklahoma City, but it won’t be easy.
KSm: The opportunity for the CWS is obviously there and this team is hungry for it. There’s always one wildcard and I think Missouri has a good shot to be that wildcard this year. I think they will definitely advance to Supers, and we will see from there.
LR: I 100% think they’ll make it to the Supers. I’d truly be shocked if in some way they didn’t. I believe they’ll be able to make it to the World Series in OKC. It will without a doubt be an absolutely tough road to get there. They were so close last year with basically these exact players currently on the team. It’s their time.
KS: I know Missouri has been facing some elite pitching recently, but they still have to be able to get the offense going or they’re going to have trouble advancing. I know they can do it; they’ve beaten Montana Fouts multiple times, they’ve beaten UW’s Gabbie Plain. They produced against UCLA’s Megan Faraimo, so I know it’s possible! This team is going to the Supers and I’d love nothing more than for all these super seniors who stuck around to get to go out with an appearance in the WCWS.
Now for a few random questions…
Who do you wish we’d interviewed this season that we haven’t really gotten a chance to talk to very much (or at all)?
CL: Emma Raabe without a doubt. She’s such a character. We just need to give her the mic.
BH: I’d go with Hatti Moore. We haven’t talked with her much during the season due to an unexpected slump, but she’s found success as of late. Plus, it’s her final year and she has held down Missouri’s catcher position for a few years.
CB: Chan’tice Phillips. She brought so much energy to the dugout. Getting to talk with her would be a blast.
KSm: We haven’t heard much from Hatti Moore aside from the three-homer game. It’d be interesting to hear her take on coming back for the extra year after she decided she didn’t want to and how she thinks that’s gone for her.
KS: Emma Raabe (with Richie, of course). Also Riley Frizell, the ultimate hype-woman. And after learning from Chris Blake that Chan’tice Phillips has a PODCAST, she’s on the list, too.
Who’s your MVP this season?
CL: If I’m basing it off of the last few weeks, it might be Jordan Weber, honestly. Two complete-game shutouts in the tournament, a solid performance against Arkansas (erase the one pitch) and a slew of great performances towards the end of the regular season. Offensively, though, I’ll take Kimberly Wert. Breaking the career home run record, smashing RBI after RBI, Wert’s bat was the most consistent thing about this team all year. If you put her at the plate with runners on base, you’re looking good.
BH: Casidy Chaumont or Kim Wert. Chaumont’s defense coupled with her offensive consistency provided a spark all season long. She has been an anchor for one of the nation’s top defenses and seems to make a highlight catch or two every game. Wert, on the other hand, does not play on defense. Instead, it’s her bat that has done all of the talking. Wert’s breakout series against Kentucky propelled Missouri to where it’s at today, so she deserves a ton of credit. She also continues to make national headlines with her fun demeanor, which is a staple of an MVP.
CB: Kimberly Wert is the MVP of this team. She leads all qualified players in slugging percentage, on-base percentage and home runs. She has more walks than strikeouts. In conference play, Wert batted .339 with a 1.182 OPS. It’s worth mentioning that Wert was right in the middle of Missouri’s offensive outburst during the influential Kentucky series. Brooke Wilmes is somehow an under-the-radar pick here. She was second on the team in total bases while playing solid defense in center field.
KSm: My MVP is the Mizzou Softball parents. Spend one day in the stands with them and you’ll never want to watch a game any other way. Specifically, Lisa Laird and Andrea Wilmes. GOATs.
LR: I’m tied between Kim Wert and Brooke Wilmes. On one hand, Wert broke all these records, most notably home runs. But Wilmes took it upon herself to switch over to batting second in the lineup and continued to produce at the high level she’s done since her freshman season. She hasn’t committed an error all season and her batting lines are super impressive at .312/.575/.406. Also breaking the doubles record is a whole other feat of its own. Can there be two MVPs?
KS: What Chris said. I’ll give it to Kim Wert, but an honorable mention goes to Brooke Wilmes, also a player leaving Mizzou with her name in the history books. Also, yes, Lauren, I came up with this roundtable and so I’ll allow it.
I know we’ve asked Coach Anderson this, but what would be YOUR walk up song? Have you ever found yourself in a walk-up song situation?
CL: “Hotel Room Service” by Pitbull. Never fails to get the crowd going. It’s got to have a few seconds of the instrumental at first, though. Can’t go wrong with Mr. Worldwide.
BH: While I have never had the chance to have a walk-up song, I would go with Rascal Flatts’ version of “Life is a Highway” from the movie Cars. I love country music and it’d be nice to hear all of the fans singing (or booing country music) behind me.
CB: I have not been in a situation where I’ve had a walk-up song, but I’ll go with “California Love” by 2Pac, featuring Dr Dre.
KSm: “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones. Just something about it, man. Gets me going.
LR: Before tennis matches, we’d have walk up songs within the team before we started our warm ups. Back then, my song was “Not Afraid” by Eminem. If I was to choose today, it’d probably be “Fly Away” by Lenny Kravitz.
KS: Once upon a time, I was a swimmer, and I always wanted to make it to a championship final heat where I could pick a walk-up song. But when I was a kid and actually good enough, that wasn’t an option. However, I have to go with one of my favorite older songs that will age me tremendously, “Two Princes” by the Spin Doctors. I used to listen to it on repeat before I’d race and considered it to be my ultimate good luck song.
What’s your favorite moment/game/play of the season?
CL: I had to think about this one hard. The Hat Trick was a phenomenal moment that I’ll never forget, but I think I had a little bit more fun in the second game against St. Thomas. Four home runs in the first inning, including back-to-back-to-back from Daly, Honnold and Bailey. The game saw seven home runs, which set the Mizzou record for most home runs in a single game. The home run derby may have been the most enjoyable game to watch for me. An honorable mention would have to be Krings’ perfect game on the exact same day, though, against Bradley. That was a crazy day. Maybe it was that whole day, actually.
BH: I was out of town for Hatti’s hat trick, so I’m going to go with the weekend of the Mizzou Softball Tournament. A no-hitter on Friday, followed by a seven home-run day in game two of Saturday’s doubleheader and a perfect game from Krings on Sunday. I don’t think there is a weekend that compares, especially since us in the press box were able to predict at least five of those seven home runs. (TRUE STORY)
CB: Hatti Moore’s three-home run game against Texas A&M with her final blast being an extra-innings walk-off trumps all. The home crowd was electric, and the fact that Moore hit the walk-off with someone else’s bat made an already notable game unforgettable. Honorable mention goes to when the lights went out during the second game of the infamous March 19 doubleheader.
KSm: Easily my favorite moment of the season was when Hatti Moore hit three homers and hit the third for the walk-off. I was down right next to the dugout at field level shooting video and I got the best video I think of my entire career of the bomb. Being right there around the team and the crowd was electric, my heart was racing and it was so hard not to react with the camera in my hands! Pure adrenalin.
LR: Hatti’s hat trick was definitely a memorable one but I’d have to go with the win against Washington because not only was it a 5-inning run rule against one of the best teams in the country but because my Australian writing colleagues and I had a nice little rivalry and friendly banter through it all.
KS: I’ve got a few memorable ones. 1) The night the power went out mid-AB of the Northwestern game. Despite some pretty lousy results in that series and a super long day at the ballpark (like 10 hours), it was something I’ll never forget. I thought Ben Arnet was going to lose it in the video booth beside us. 2) The Hat(ti) trick game and Kayler’s subsequent video. She came into the press box screaming expletives about how awesome it was being right there at field level. Just a really cool moment for a very deserving player. And a great moment to capture on film. 3) The Washington win at the Mary Nutter Classic.. I only got to listen to it because I was working that day, but I was amped up and had a tweet go kinda viral about the results so that was cool.
Looking to the future, who do you see making a big impact next season that’s already on the team?
CL: Kara Daly. Alex Honnold and Jenna Laird get all the respect that they need. Daly’s power bat is incredibly impressive, even as a freshman. Watching her tee off on Tennessee in the 7th inning was the highlight of my SEC Tournament, and I cannot wait to see where her career takes her. She’s a stud. Also, good defensively. Underrated there.
BH: Give me strikeout machine, Laurin Krings. In her sophomore campaign, she has already struck out 162 batters in 142.1 innings and compiled a 14-9 record. If she forces more groundouts and limits the home runs, I think she is headed for even greater things.
CB: All five pitchers on this year’s team are eligible to return next year. Coach Larissa Anderson has a pitching background, so you have to think this group gets even better next season.
KSm: Alex Honnold, Jenna Laird, and Laurin Krings I think will lead this team going forward. They’ve all got multiple years left and plenty of time to take the reigns.
LR: I believe all the others mentioned above will have a huge impact next season, but there’s someone else who hasn’t gotten her chance yet but will— Addie Lange. She transferred to Mizzou from Vol State where she was 2021 NJCAA all-first team. Her batting numbers while in JUCO were mind-boggling. She slashed .459/.530/1.023 with 32 homers and 123 RBI. Next season there is a gaping hole at catcher and I believe Lange will step right in and help fill the shoes left by Moore.
KS: Kara Daly and Alex Honnold I think are the most obvious answers, as they’ve both shown their defensive prowess and offensive capabilities. I’m also interested to see what catcher Addie Lange does. She was out with injury all season so we didn’t see her, but was a JuCo All-American. I wonder, if she didn’t play, does she count? (Survey says, “YES!”)