It’s SEC OPENER TIME!
Yes, I know the Tigers technically played their actual home opener on Wednesday evening against Kansas City (see my recap here), but it’s time for the important games.
Your 16-6 Missouri Tigers are finally HOME (insert Missouri symbol in place of the O in your minds, please). Throughout the first month of the season, the Tigers’ travels have spanned the United States. First, they trekked all over the great (?) state of Florida, from Clearwater to Orlando to Miami, before making their way to Palm Springs, CA, and then stopping in Tulsa/Stillwater on the way back to CoMo. Along the way, they proved that losing so much offense due to the graduation of Hatti, Casidy, Kim, Brooke, and Kendyll, did not particularly impact them. While the Tigers will surely miss their leadership and vivacious personalities (and I really will miss their interviews), this almost-complete overhaul has given the young’ns a chance to shine. And shine they have!!!
Julia Crenshaw and Maddie Snider, patiently waiting in the wings a season ago, have arrived. Snider, especially, pressed into more solid duty with Chantice Phillips’ concussion protocol, has performed admirably, continuing to showcase her baserunning acumen (she’s swiped 9 bags). Crenshaw can play a variety of positions and has tested the waters at 2B (mostly) and catcher. Cierra Harrison, a freshman from Lee’s Summit, has been a regular starter, and is the Tigers’ leading strikeout queen. Freshman Katie Chester, in limited work — she needs to get more action — has provided plenty of power, and should any corner infielders falter, she’ll be next up to take over. Kara Daly, only a sophomore, continues to show her power as well, but also her penchant for the strikeout, leading the team in K’s. Alex Honnold is killing it. And Jenna Laird is still... well.. Jenna Laird. She’s a FORCE.
Overall, the Tigers have run-ruled opponents 8 times already this season, one of them a team (at the time) receiving some Top 25 votes in BYU. They’ve smashed 23 home runs (7th in the SEC) and 32 doubles (6th in the SEC, but both seem like a lot to me). They had a collective no-hitter (Jo and Schuey). They aggressively stole a bunch of bags (2nd in the SEC with 55).
Now, was it all sunshine and rainbows? No, there were definite storms and cold fronts along the way (literally and figuratively... silly climate change). The Tigers had to open their season against #6/9 Texas, that of WCWS fame a season ago, and were pretty much annihilated, 11-1, on just a completely uncharacteristic performance of the Tigers’ normally solid defense. But they rebounded. They beat #8 Northwestern later that weekend before losing to a tough 14-6 Louisville squad. They beat — it got crazy at the end — #20 UCF. In Cali, they lost to the Oregons— Oregon State 3-2 (WCWS darlings a season ago and PS #23) and #22/24 Oregon 6-4. And they took an L to #3 Oklahoma State 6-3 (they fought back so hard) in Stillwater. Truly, the only “bad” loss the Tigers have had was in game 1 against Tulsa last weekend, when late-inning mishaps allowed the Hurricanes to take the W, 6-5.
But... now we are in SEC play. Sure, the Tigers will play a couple of other teams outside the conference (Illinois next week, North Texas, kU, Drake, etc.), but it’s arrived. This is what matters most in what many consider to be the best softball conference in all the land. Let’s get started.
WHEN: Friday, March 10 @ 4pm | Saturday, March 11 @ 1pm | Sunday, March 12 @ 1pm
TV/STREAMING: Friday— SEC+ | Saturday & Sunday— SEC Network
STATS: Friday— Statbroadcast | Saturday— Statbroadcast | Sunday— Statbroadcast
WEATHER FORECAST: The weather is looking pretty crappy [I’d insert another word here but this is a family site]. It’s going to be cold and rainy and just... not ideal conditions. As of Thursday afternoon, Friday’s high, while precipitation-less right now, will be only 46 at game time. Saturday has a 75%+ chance of rain with highs of 42 during game time, and Sunday, while it may not rain, is expected to be around 45 at game time. Ew. Seriously. Not trying to catch pneumonia at the ballpark, but I’ll be there. Gonna take full advantage of that free beanie on Friday!
HISTORY: Per MUTigers.com, Mizzou leads the all-time series, 12-10, including a three-game sweep last year that included two run-rule victories. Jordan Weber won all three games. Since 1999, Mizzou and Kentucky have faced off 21 times, and Kentucky leads it 11-10, though the Tigers have a 10-8 record at home. Mizzou is currently on a 6-game win streak against the Cats that extends the entirety of Larissa Anderson’s time at Mizzou. Coincidence? You decide. Weirdly, Mizzou hasn’t faced UK at home since April 2017.
Let’s check in with our hometown Tigers!
2022 RECORD: 38-22, 12-11 (7th in SEC)
2023 RECORD: 16-6
PROJECTED CONFERENCE FINISH: 8th in SEC
LAST 8 GAMES: Kansas City (W 11-5) | Tulsa (W 13-1, L 6-5) | Maine (W 10-0 in 5 inn, W 7-1) | #3 OK State (L 6-3) | LB State (W 9-0 in 6 inn) | #22/24 Oregon (L 6-4)
RANKING: #23 (ESPN.com/USA Softball), #24 (NFCA), #24 (D1 Softball), #23 (Softball America)
2023 TOP OFFENSIVE PERFORMERS:
- Alex Honnold: .511 BA | 1.663 OPS | 23 R | 23 H | 6 2B | 1 3B | 5 HR | 21 RBI | 1.022 SLG% | 16 BB | .641 OB% | 11 SB
- Jenna Laird: .419 BA | 1.027 OPS | 24 R | 31 H | 4 2B | 2 3B | 21 RBI | .527 SLG% | .500 OB% | 11 BB | 18-19 SB
- Julia Crenshaw: .379 BA | 1.226 OPS | 18 R | 25 H | 7 2B | 6 HR | 24 RBI | .758 SLG% | .468 OB% | 7 SB
- Maddie Snider: .324 BA | .927 OPS | 13 R | 12 H | 1 3B | 1 HR | 15 RBI | .459 SLG% | 9 BB | .512 OB% | 8 K | 7 SB
- Kara Daly: .274 BA | .894 OPS | 15 R | 17 H | 3 2B | 5 HR | 21 RBI | .565 SLG% | 6 BB | 17 K | .329 OB% | 1 SB
- Maddie Gallagher: .273 BA | .684 OPS | 33 AB | 5 R | 9 H | 1 3B | 3 RBI | .333 SLG% | 2 BB | 2 HBP | .351 OB%
- Kelsee Mortimer: .400 BA | .963 OPS | 10 AB | 2 R | 4 H | 2 RBI | .400 SLG% | 5 BB | .563 OB%
2023 PITCHING STATS:
- Cierra Harrison: 2.24 ERA | 2.76 xFIP | 0.96 WHIP | 5-0 | 1 CG | 34.1 IP | 24 H | 11 ER | 9 BB | 43 K | 7 2B | 3 HR | 0.190 OppBA
- Laurin Krings: 2.87 ERA | 3.90 xFIP | 1.32 WHIP | 6-3 | 46.1 IP | 3 CG | 1 SHO | 48 H | 22 R | 19 ER | 13 BB | 33 K | 13 XBH | 5 HR | .265 OppBA
- Jordan Weber: 4.45 ERA | 4.08 xFIP | 1.38 WHIP | 3-3 | 28.1 IP | 1 CG | 1 SHO | 24 H | 21 R | 18 ER | 7 BB | 18 K | 13 XBH | .286 OppBA
- Megan Schumacher: 3.78 ERA | 4.02 xFIP | 1.56 WHIP | 2-0 | 1 CG | 1 SHO | 16.2 IP | 22 R | 9 ER | 4 BB | 10 K | 3 XBH | 1 HR | .306 OppBA
- D1 Softball Top 80 Freshmen Names to Know: Cierra Harrison, P
- Co-SEC Player of the Week: Alex Honnold (2/20)
- Jenna Laird: 2023 USA Softball Collegiate POY Watchlist, 2023 Preseason All-SEC, no. 14 on D1 Softball SEC Power Rankings, No. 8 SS in D1 Softball Top 100; 2023 NFCA Leadoff Classic All-Tournament Team; Week 3 D1 Softball #5 ranked SS
- Offense, offense, offense! The team is currently slashing at a rate of .317 BA /.958 OPS /.530 SLG% /.428 OB%. They’ve already got 32 doubles on the season and 23 home runs. They are also hitting well with runners on base, batting .381 against KC, and .286 w/ RISP. They sit 8th in the SEC in batting average (UK is 10th) and are tied for 4th in runs scored (UK is last). They’re 6th in hits (UK is last), and 2nd in triples (UK is 3rd). They lead the league in sacrifice bunts with 11, which makes sense as Mizzou doesn’t have a long list of power hitters at their disposal.
- Hopefully, the Tigers will be welcoming back the services of Alex Honnold, who has been sorely missed and has been out since the OK State game when she hyperextended her knee. Anderson stated she’s day-to-day in the postgame on Wednesday, choosing to rest her against the Roos in favor of hopefully getting her back against UK.
- Plate Discipline: The Tigers also already have 91(!) walks this season, and had 25 more in the weekend’s five-game slate. Alex Honnold is a walk MACHINE (25 BB%), while Snider has 9 at 19.6%; Laird (8); Frizell (7, 10.3%); Daly & Mortimer (5). In limited ABs for Hollingsworth and Mortimer (25 total), this is impressive; Morty’s BB% is 31.3! The Tigers are fourth in the SEC in walks (UK is 12th). However, the Tigers are faltering a bit in the strikeout area. While it’s totally acceptable to strike out against, say, Kelly Maxwell (OK State goliath), it’s not okay to strike out 6 times against UMKC, two of them looking. The Tigers, as Larissa pointed out in Wednesday’s postgame, need to work on being more aggressive at the plate, and seeing “through” change ups. Daly, for instance, is striking out at a team-high 23.9% rate, and Snider’s is starting to rise (16%).
- Pitching: The Tiger pitchers seem to be giving up an awful lot of extra base hits and home runs early in the season, though they did manage to not give up a home run in 5 games over the weekend. Progress? Over the weekend, though, the pitching snafus led to Missouri’s game 1 loss against Tulsa. After a Kara Daly homer broke up a tie and gave the Tigers a 5-4 lead in the top of the 7th, Tulsa came back with a bases-loaded 2-run single to take the win, 6-5. Not ideal.
- The trio’s .284-.315 BABIP, which is its batting avg on balls in play, and “measures a player’s batting average exclusively on balls hit into the field of play, removing outcomes not affected by the opposing defense (namely home runs and strikeouts),” shows that just because they are allowing baserunners doesn’t mean they’re scoring. CC and Specs’ LOB% are both very high, at 85.8% and 73.7%, respectively, and neither Jo’s (55.9%) nor Schuey’s are bad either (61%).
- D1 Softball data also looks at a player’s SIERA, which is, per mlb.com, the Skill-interactive Earned Run Average (SIERA), “SIERA quantifies a pitcher’s performance by trying to eliminate factors the pitcher can’t control by himself. But unlike a stat such as xFIP, SIERA considers balls in play and adjusts for the type of ball in play.” The Tigers’ SIERAs (do I add an -S here? I don’t know) are in order: CC (2.11), Pannell (2.49), Schumacher (3.56- not sure this includes Weds’ theatrics), Krings (4.15) and Jo (4.68)
- Data has shown us that both Jo and Krings are slower to really get going, and we should (we hope, at least) expect them to get it together soon. Both are strikeout pitchers, but haven’t done a ton of striking out so far this season, each having a rate of 15-17%. Harrison, the rookie, leads the staff with 33.1% strikeouts.
Let’s go in-depth on Mizzou’s opponent this weekend, shall we?
2022 RECORD: 37-19 (13-11 in SEC)
2023 RECORD: 13-5-1
LAST 8 GAMES: Dayton (W 5-4) | UIC (W 11-0 in 5inn, W 7-1) | #1 Oklahoma (L 7-1, L 18-0) | UC-Riverside (W 3-0) | #17 Northwestern (L 9-3) | #1 UCLA (L 6-3) | SD State (W 2-0)
PROJECTED CONFERENCE FINISH: 7th in SEC per D1Softball
RANKING: #16 (ESPN.com/USA Softball), #16 (USA Today/NFCA), #17 (D1 Softball), #17 (Softball America),
2023 Top Performers (as of 3/7):
- Vanessa Nesby: .471 BA | 34 AB | 12 R | 16 H | 1 2B | 1 RBI | 2 BB | 3 SB
- Kayla Kowalik: .393 BA | 61 AB | 12 R | 24 H | 1 2B | 1 3B | 1 HR | 10 RBI | 6 BB | 5 SB
- Margaret Tobias: .381 BA | 42 AB | 7 R | 16 H | 1 RBI | 1 BB | 8 K
- Rylea Smith: .345 BA | 58 AB | 8 R | 20 H | 1 3B | 10 RBI | 2 BB | 10 K | 3 SB
- Erin Coffel: .341 BA | 44 AB | 15 R | 15 H | 2 2B | 7 HR | 19 RBI | 14 BB | 7 K
- Jenna Blanton: .281 BA | 32 AB | 7 R | 9 H | 3 RBI | 2 BB | 2 K | 2 SB
- Stephanie Schoonover: 1.32 ERA | 8-1 | 8 CG | 7 SHO | 64.2 IP | 38 H | 15 ER | 20 BB | 99 K | 8 XBH | .167 OppBA
- Alexia Lacatena: 1.73 ERA | 4-1 | 1 SHO | 28.1 IP | 25 H | 7 ER | 6 BB | 22 K | 7 XBH | .240 OppBA
- Izzy Harrison: 6.60 ERA | 1-2 | 1 CG | 1 SHO | 11.2 IP | 9 H | 11 ER | 16 BB | 14 K | 1 HR | .214 OppBA
- D1 Softball Top 80 Freshmen to Watch: OF Chelsea Mack
- Kayla Kowalik: #3 catcher in D1 Softball Top 100 rankings; 2022 Preseason 3rd Team All-American; 2021 D1 Softball batting champion; 2021 Johnny Bench Award
- D1 Softball SEC Player Rankings: #4 Erin Coffel | #9 Kowalik
- D1 Softball National Pitcher of the Week (2/21): Stephanie Schoonover
- When we last saw ‘em: Junior SS Erin Coffel hit a grand slam that helped to put IUC away, 11-0 in 5 innings over the weekend in Norman, and again on Wednesday against Dayton in the home opener, when her 3-run bomb gave them the win (they were down 4-2). Stephanie Schoonover pitched 4 innings in relief, only allowing 2 hits to go with 7 punch-outs
- Tidbit: Kentucky, an unbelievable hitting team a year ago (more on that in a bit), is not getting a ton offensively from anyone not named Erin Coffel/Kayla Kowalik, but they ARE pitching very well. Should be an interesting matchup, and the weather conditions will be something to monitor (Jordan Weber struggles with her grip in the cold, remember).
- Pitching: Last year, with the lack of depth and experience, Kentucky used a pitch-by-committee approach. Coach Lawson doesn’t think that will be an issue this season, having returned the majority of her staff. Gone are Miranda Stoddard (3.69 ERA), who led the team in innings (72) a season ago, as well as their best pitcher, Tatum Spangler (2.42 ERA in 60.2 IP, 49 K, .208 OppBA).
- However, Stephanie Schoonover (5.15 ERA in 69 IP) is off to a MUCH better start this season, as the stats above show, as is Alexia Lacatena (3.35 ERA in 46 IP, .280 OppBA). Schoonover, in particular, has been unbelievable, already breaking a school record in strikeouts with 18 in a single game (also a no-no) against #22 North Texas. That no-hitter was the third of her career.
- Sloan Gayan, who a year ago had a 2.20 ERA in 35 IP, is struggling mightily. She’s appeared in 3 games this season, only lasting 2.2 IP and has an ERA of 21.00 on 6 H, 8 ER, 5 BB, and 4 HR.
- Offense: Having Coffel and Kowalik back is HUGE for a team that led the SEC in batting average a year ago (.333) and ranked third in slugging percentage (.565), on-base percentage (.396), hits (506) and RBIs (353). Per the D1 Softball Fall Report, Coach Lawson said, “We have one of the best leadoff hitters in the country in Kayla Kowalik in there with Erin Coffel. Those are two All-Americans. We have never had two All-Americans in the lineup at the same time, so that is huge.”
- Taylor Ebbs, who a season ago hit .320/1.008/.619, is off to a rocky start in 34AB this season. She’s only batting .176 and has 6 hits on the season (compared to that of Smith and Kowalik, who have 20/27, for example). And the Wildcats will need to replace Renee Abernathy (.326BA, 38R, 47H, 15HR, .701SLG%) and Lauren Johnson (.369BA, 53R, 63H, 39RBI)
- Key Additions: Transfer Grace Lorsung, an All-Big 10 selection as a freshman at Indiana, could be helpful should she regain her form (she only hit .188 last season with 4 doubles and 7 RBI).
- Fun Facts: The coaching staff (with the exception of the strength coach) is all women. UK’s softball stadium is one of the best in the country, and cost $9.5 million to construct. Alexia Lacatena (soph pitcher) represented Italy in the Tokyo Olympics.
- Head coach: Rachel Lawson has been the head coach of Kentucky’s softball program since 2007. She is the winningest head coach in program history, and has led UK to its first WCWS, 8 Super Regionals in the last 10 seasons, and 50 wins in 2014. She’s won 587 games as head coach, and has coached four NFCA All-Americans in the past decade, per UKAthletics. She’s 532-314 at Kentucky.