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It had to end sometime.

The Tigers fade away quietly into the night, but the loss will not diminish the seniors’ legacy on this program.

Game 6 of NCAA Columbia Regional on May 22, 2022
@MizzouSoftball | twitter

In a season with so much potential, it came down to a disappointing end as the Missouri Tigers were shut out by the Arizona Wildcats for the second day in a row. Much like last year’s bittersweet ending, I write this recap with tears in my eyes, as it’s so sad it had to go this way. On one single pitch, Mizzou’s season was over. On one last groundout that just couldn’t make it into a gap, it’s done. In the blink of an eye, the end.

“I know that everyone’s disappointed when a loss means one team in the country ends with a win, and we had very, very high expectations,” Mizzou Head Coach Larissa Anderson said in the postgame. “And you always want to repeat and go further than you did before. But I can’t tell you how hard they worked to get to this point. I mean, we’re one of 32 teams left in the country, out of 300 D1 softball programs. That’s not easy to do. It’s really tough to win.”

I wanted so much more for this team. We all did. They deserved it. For Casidy Chaumont, playing with basically one arm. Had she been granted a medical redshirt, she would have been on the sidelines this season. For Hatti Moore, whose horrific car accident in September left her wondering if she could even continue playing. She couldn’t put on a helmet and begin to think about playing the game she loved until January. For Kim Wert, whose body is completely broken down and has refused the doctor until the season is over (“I didn’t want to know what’s going on,” she said). For the seniors, the majority of whom came back for one more ride, hoping to get there. For this pitching staff, sporting their best team ERA since 2014, who was really f’ing good and did literally everything possible to help their team win. And for this whole team, who tried their damndest to keep it going but just couldn’t. No one can say they didn’t want it. I saw the looks in their eyes. I saw the tears running down their faces when it was over.

When they could’ve transferred in an era where (gestures wildly) everyone transfers, they stayed put with this team. Through sanctions handed down because of events that happened before they were even in Columbia. Through Covid. Through it all, they stayed to play for this team at this University. Nowadays, that means something.

“You look at college athletics nowadays and the transfer portal where there’s probably 1000 softball players in there right now. Our kids stay home, and I think everybody around the country wants to know how you get to that point,” Coach said.

“I’m just so grateful for our senior class. They were so committed and loyal and dedicated to this program and really set the standard and set a very high bar and left a lasting legacy. I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Anderson said.

“We didn’t get the offensive production today, but they gave their effort, their concentration, their loyalty, and their hard work, and you can’t replace that.” She continued. “The loss hurts but their commitment to this program and Mizzou, you can’t replace that and there’s no score on the scoreboard that can you tell you their commitment to this game.”

For teams that pride themselves on their offense, neither team did a whole lot of it in this game (or in their prior meetup yesterday, for that matter), as Arizona, in its win, was able to work just 4 hits and 2 walks out of Missouri starter Jordan Weber, to go along with 2 who reached on errors — one of those calls was iffy — and a hit by pitch. They stranded eight, and not one of those runners parked on a base ever came around to score. Aside from the lead off solo shot by Sherize Palacios in the fifth that eventually won the game, Jo was great. She contained an offense that is very difficult to contain, so flowers go to Jordan Weber, who ends this season with a career-best 2.51 ERA and 12 complete games, and (especially) Kara Daly, who seemed to catch every infield popup, and there were A LOT of them.

Mizzou had 8 baserunners themselves, who reached on 2 hits, 2 walks, and 2 fielder’s choices, and made some hard contact today, for really the first time this weekend, but a Wildcat always seemed to be there, making a diving catch or reaching over the wall by the dugout to nab a foul ball. No matter what the Tigers seemed to do, Arizona was there. And for the most part, so was Missouri in their own right.

Kim Wert said in the postgame she thought that having an older lineup might have led to the team pressing a bit more. “We knew this could be our last game so it’s always in the back of your mind,” she said. When asked what got her through the series, knowing it was going to come to an end, she said she prayed a lot. And cried. “I cried a little bit, but I looked around me and knew I had to do it.”

While Arizona’s pitching had been suspect at the end of the regular season — they gave up 16 runs and 24 hits in their final series of the season to Stanford, after all — they really did start this postseason with renewed focus and were outstanding. Hanah Bowen was fantastic all weekend, and today’s starter, Devyn Netz, was equally great.

“I definitely think it was their best showing all year,” Coach Caitlyn Lowe said, in reference to her pitching staff and overall performance. “We’ve been tying to put those full package games together, the ones where we pitch our heart out in the circle. We played great defense and came through with the big hit… It was huge. She (Devyn) just locked it down for us again. Mizzou has some big hitters and just props to them because they had a hell of a season.”

Listening to Lowe talk about Devyn Netz in the postgame, it distinctly reminded me of how Coach Anderson speaks about Jordan Weber and Laurin Krings.

When asked about her decision to start Netz over Hanah Bowen, who’d had so much success already in the regional, she said, “I know they both want the ball, and that makes my decision easier. I know from past experience that Devyn is going to go at people and give you everything she has. You know Bo (Bowen) is always available, but at the same time, when I look at Devyn’s numbers and I see that fire in her eyes, I know she wants the ball.”

Arizona will now move on to face Mississippi State in the Super Regionals after they abruptly ended no. 2 overall seed Florida State’s season in Tallahassee, but the Tigers will remain in CoMo. Their season is over.

Much will be made about this team’s inability to manufacture offense from the SEC Tournament on, without mentioning the factors behind it so believe me when I say this — I don’t care if people think it’s unacceptable for it to end this way. I don’t care if people think that just because the team remained (basically) the same, that that automatically means they will play in the WCWS and anything less, whether it would have been losing next week to an amazing team in the Supers, or losing today to a historic blue blood, is something they should be ashamed of. Larissa isn’t going anywhere; Michaela isn’t going anywhere; Sara isn’t going anywhere. I was there all season and I saw it play out. This team, this culture, will win and continue to win for a long time.

When the expectations and pressure to perform are that intense, though, it’s not always going to go the way everyone wants. Just look at Alabama, who sat at no. 2 nationally for much of the season before fading away at the end and losing out to Stanford twice (6-0) in their hosted regional. Their season is over, too. As is Florida State’s. So thank the seniors for their (literal) blood, sweat and tears, because saying you can’t wait to move on from them is frankly, unacceptable.

Even though this quote actually came from the other team, it explains my point perfectly. Arizona, as I explained in my preview, has had their own roller coaster season, not unlike ours. While Missouri’s came dangerously close to careening off a cliff in March, theirs came much later, and almost kept them from the postseason altogether.

“It doesn’t really matter what other people think,” Coach Lowe said. “We put in the work every single day and I’ve watched them do that and go through some bumps along the way. But at the end of the day, they let that make them stronger and I’ve never seen them closer than they are today.”

What an honor it has been covering this team this season. I’ll have plenty more softball coverage in the coming weeks, but I think I need a little break. I’ve been writing A LOT and I’m very tired, you guys.

Thanks so much for coming along for the ride, and until then, MIZ.