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NCAA REGIONAL RECAP: Missouri Softball eliminates cross-state rival, awaits rematch with Arizona

Laurin Krings has struck out 23 batters in two days.

I spent 11 hours at Mizzou Softball Stadium on Saturday, wrote 3637 words for the site consisting of two previews and a recap (not counting this one, either), and composed 14 innings’ worth of game action tweets. I am tired. And I didn’t even have to put my body through what the no. 15 Missouri Tigers (38-21) did on the field.

As I watched Kim Wert move very gingerly off of first base back to the dugout late in the second game of the double-header that went til 10:47pm, I felt it in my soul. Not only was she pelted in the back by a softball trying to leg out a single in the top of the third inning — are we playing dodgeball or softball?!? — but between the two games, the break in between for the Illinois-Missouri State matchup, and the 78 minute weather delay earlier in the first game, she was HURTING. Coach said she’s fine, by the way; I asked in the postgame. The starting and stopping kills her, she said, and compared her - for what has been multiple times this season - to an offensive lineman. She’s banged up, but she’ll be good to go for Sunday’s slate.

While I sat in my weekend press box digs — there were MEALS in there on Saturday — I made a list. In those 11 hours at the ballpark, just counting the Mizzou stats, I witnessed 1 win, 1 loss, a total of 8 hits, 2 runs scored, 2 walks, 1 home run, 2 extra base hits, and 9 runners left on base. From Mizzou’s pitching, I was witness to 3 pitchers, 17 strikeouts, 1 complete game, 1 shutout, 6 walks, and 2 runs allowed. What a simultaneously frustrating and entertaining day. And it continues today!

I’ve already recapped the first game of the doubleheader here. So let’s get to late night one.

Facing Missouri State ace Steffany Dickerson for the second time in two days, and after just watching her throw a one-hitter to eliminate Illinois from the Columbia Regional — who had THAT on their bingo card?!? — the question was whether Missouri could make adjustments after getting jammed up by her time and time again on Friday night.

After that first meeting, Coach Anderson stressed the need to look for better pitches and not press. “We put the bat on the ball, but we weren’t hitting it hard… We were jamming ourself rather than swinging free and trusting ourselves in those situations… She (Dickerson) threw great. She kept us off balance. She worked both sides of the plate that really got us on our front foot. So I’ve got to tip my hat to Missouri State and how they attacked us.”

This is what the Tigers tried to do more of on Saturday night, and did have some success, early on at least. Dickerson is really good, guys, and seemingly has a bionic arm. She threw a 7-inning complete game against Illinois, followed by 6 23 against Mizzou with only about 40 minutes of rest in between. And in doing so, allowed only 5 total hits and NO walks. To Power-5 teams. In the NCAA Tournament. Let that sink in. Also, she definitely could have stayed in for the full game against Mizzou, but Coach Hesse and the team wanted to give her a proper sendoff and ovation for her final game as a Missouri State Bear; it was a cool moment. Coach Anderson made sure to give Steffany her flowers in the postgame presser, congratulating her on an incredible performance, saying she’s one of the best in the country and would have fit in well in the SEC. .

After reminding the team in between games that they just needed to concentrate and they could win the game in the first inning, the team did just that. Jenna Laird’s leadoff triple got the Tiger offense started right away in the first inning, and that was followed by a first pitch single by Brooke Wilmes. Just two at-bats deep, the Tigers were up 1-0.

“The game is not always won in the seventh inning with the game on the line,” Anderson said. “The game can be won in the first inning if they bear down and take advantage of the opportunity.” Something the Tigers didn’t do in that fateful third inning with the bases loaded against Arizona…

While the Tigers wouldn’t not score any more runs that inning, but did tack on another run in the top of the second as Kara Daly absolutely CRUSHED a ball to center, making it 2-0 (her 13th of the year). Daly also had a nice single to left in the fourth, but the Tigers couldn’t advance her. Alex Honnold led off with a single in the seventh — 34 of the Tigers’ hits were from leadoff batters, weirdly enough — and Daly (she had a great game) reached on a FC right after that, but the inning ended with her stuck at first… again.

Kara Daly called the home run pitch a “fat” pitch in the postgame, saying she “likes the outside pitches a little bit,” but stresses she was not looking for a home run. She just wanted to hit the ball as hard as she could. Mission accomplished— that thing FLEW.

As for the Missouri State offense, they got a runner on here and there, but as the game went on Krings — or should I say KKKKKKKKKKKrings?!? — was dealing. After a MO State single by Plummer (responsible for 23 of the Bears’ offense) in the bottom of the first, Specs ended the inning with a strikeout. In the bottom of the third, Plummer AGAIN singled and Krehbiel walked to get two on, but the inning AGAIN ended with a strikeout. After striking out the side in the fourth, Missouri State put two on in the fifth, but guess what? Specs ended that inning with a strikeout, too, and in the sixth, after a bunt is initially ruled safe, a review overturned it — good job on the challenge, Larissa — and the Bears go down on … you guessed it… another strikeout.

The final inning I think was Krings’ best work, as she did it all by herself. After strikeout no. 10 kicked off the inning, she caught a line drive fired directly at her stomach for the second out, and struck out batter no. 11 to end the game. A three hit masterpiece, a complete game, and a shutout. She’s now got 185 strikeouts on the year… I’m guessing that still falls short of Chelsea Thomas’ 2013 record, or else we would have gotten a notification. Regardless, WOW. Just wow.

Krings said in the postgame that her control was really good on Saturday night, and her change just complemented all of it. When asked about how she alters her approach when there’s runners on base — she faced runners on second four times — she stressed keeping the same approach. I must say, I believe her. She stays locked in no matter what’s going on.

Anderson added to this, saying, “There’s no difference between a pitch she (Krings, or any of the pitchers for that matter) throws in a Regional final, a pitch she throws in California at the Mary Nutter tournament, or a pitch she throws at Devine (practice pavilion) in practice.”

(Side Note: I LOVE that they’re all in the interview room together and can feed off one another’s responses)

Next up, the Tigers will try and stave off elimination by beating the Arizona Wildcats twice today, with the first starting at 3pm.

“We competed for 14 innings,” Coach said. “Our big thing (Saturday) was to leave everything you can on the field and to compete to give yourself an opportunity to play on Sunday for a championship. We’re gonna play as hard as we possibly can for as long as we can.”

I’ll have more before the game, including how to watch.

MIZ.