The 2023 softball season is winding down, and only the top teams remain, competing for a shot to lose to Oklahoma in the Women’s College World Series. Kidding... kind of. Only one SEC team, Tennessee, remains (sorry, Alabama). Meanwhile, the Missouri Tigers have been home a few weeks after a 7-5 loss to the Cal Golden Bears in the regional semifinals. More on that in a bit.
We’ll be taking a long-awaited look at Mizzou’s season as a whole in this piece, but first, we should examine how we got here.
NOTE: When applicable, I’ve linked to the game stories, so you can check them out if you wish.
After making it all the way to the championship game of the 2021 Columbia Super Regional, the Missouri Tigers ran into a buzzsaw known as JMU’s Odicci Alexander and finished thisclose to that illustrious WCWS berth. Whether it was their strong bond or their desire to get to the highest level, the Tigers saw the return of most of that senior class for one last go-around in 2022. This included Gold Glover Casidy Chaumont, who just finished her first professional season, All-American slugger Kimberly Wert, First Team All-SEC Brooke Wilmes, who will be gearing up for her first professional season, the team’s heart and soul, Hatti Moore, 1B Emma Raabe, and do-everything RS Sr. Kendyll Bailey. A group that, going into Senior Day last year, accounted for 724 AB | 146 R | 219 H | 99 XBH | 54 HR | 150 RBI | 86 BB, and accounted for almost the entire starting lineup.
Why is this important? Well, with the aforementioned players returning for their last hurrah, it kept others — like almost the whole team! — from getting significant ABs or playing time in 2022. Players like C/2B Julia Crenshaw, OF Chantice Phillips & Maddie Snider, 1B/DP Riley Frizell, and many others spent a year patiently awaiting their turns, stuck in a logjam of sorts behind the super seniors. So despite there being plenty of “returners” on this year’s team, the only actual returning starters were Alex Honnold, Jenna Laird and Kara Daly. That’s it. Everyone outside of that trio had to learn to play together at game speed and adjust to batting against high-level pitching. And as we saw, 2023 was a learning process with plenty of peaks and valleys.
To try and replace some of the production, head coach Larissa Anderson brought in South Carolina’s Maddie Gallagher, a career .284 hitter, and Texas Tech’s Payton Jackson, a career .333 hitter, from the transfer portal, along with freshmen Katie Chester and Kayley Lenger, both of whom Anderson expected to contend for playing time after their performances in fall ball.
The team also had to adjust to a new hitting coach, the highly acclaimed Jeff Cottrill, who was brought in during the 2022 offseason fresh off a WCWS berth with blueblood OK State. Because it generally takes a year plus to fully adjust to a new hitting coach, like it or not, when combined with the lack of experience, the 2023 team was likely to be in a semi-rebuilding kind of situation.
The Tigers spent the first month plus of the 2023 season on the road, traveling to such exotic locales as Florida, Palm Springs, and Oklahoma. Because many of these games were available behind a paywall or not at all (grrrr), it was hard to get a grasp of how this new-look Tiger team looked beyond staring at a box score and listening to the updates from Coach Anderson via Zoom. So... not ideal.
The non-con portion of the schedule was filled with plenty of stiff competition as well as some easier matchups, and the Tigers were 13-6 before they returned home for the start of SEC play. Their month-long work trip was highlighted by wins over Northwestern (42-11) in the NFCA Leadoff Classic, UCF (40-20), and 30+ game winners Prairie View A&M (30-20), BYU (35-17) and Long Beach State (31-23).
The win over #8 Northwestern in particular showed early on what this Missouri team could be at its best, scattering 11 hits throughout the lineup on mostly small ball and great pitching from Laurin Krings, who held the eventual Super Regional team to just 4 hits. The win over #18 UCF further showcased Mizzou at its best, but this time on home runs — so many home runs.
Conversely, the 4-0 loss to Louisville, which followed an 11-0 run-rule drubbing of Prairie View A&M on the final day of the NFCA event, showed a side of Missouri that we would see too often this season. That is, after a win, they’d follow it up with a loss and an inability to manufacture any sort of offense. Just no consistency whatsoever.
There were other eye-opening losses in the non-con too, including the 11-1 season-opening and error-filled loss at the hands of the Texas Longhorns (45-15), who played in the WCWS championship game a year ago, and a loss to another 2022 WCWS team, Oregon State (15-29-1), who ended up having a disastrous season, making this one look real bad in retrospect. And then there were the losses to Tulsa (25-28) and Oregon (46-14), which showcased an ugly achilles heel— an inability to close out games. While the Tigers rebounded to dismantle the Golden Hurricane in Game 2, in Game 1 Mizzou broke a tie in the top of the 7th only to be gut-punched when Tulsa came back with a bases-loaded 2-run single to take the win. Similarly, Mizzou led against the Ducks in the Mary Nutter Classic until a 5-run 6th inning put OR on top.
Missouri then took a weekend off SEC games late in the season to face off against a tough North Texas squad (35-22) who was RV in the polls at the time, for a three-game set. The Tigers picked up their second sweep of the season on an otherworldly performance by Laurin Krings, who pitched in all three games. Best among them was her Game 1 performance where she took a perfect game through 6 to go with 17 strikeouts and a no-hitter.
Final K. For our queen. Queen KKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKrings pic.twitter.com/9IgdLnYxTf— Karen S (@karensteger) April 22, 2023
So what did we learn about the team in the non-conference portion of the schedule? That Anderson was willing to shuffle her lineup around to try and get the best mix of people. Julia Crenshaw started the season at 2B, but was moved to catcher due to the lack of production from that spot and the desire to get Maddie Gallagher into the lineup. Kara Daly moved up and down in the order in hopes of taking some pressure off and allowing her to see the ball a bit better. CoMo native Maddie Snider filled in admirably in LF for Chantice Phillips when she was injured. Riley Frizell’s power potential kept her in the lineup, playing at either 1B or DP most of the season, despite a penchant for striking out.
Missouri shined in the middle of the week games and was shockingly the only SEC team to remain undefeated in these types of matchups. While some of these games were against lightweights like UMKC (9-43), Drake (18-24) and Lindenwood (16-32), the midweeks also included a doubleheader sweep of rival Illinois (29-27) and one over kU (25-27)— which LA said counted as two wins — a very good UNI squad (39-12), and SIUE (30-26).
Regardless of the generally lesser opponents, the midweeks served as a great opportunity to get the feet wet of Lee’s Summit freshman P Cierra Harrison, who spent much of the conference season starting these games. Why? Anderson, while touting CC’s praises all season long, wanted to give her experience in a less pressurized environment in order to be able to utilize her later in conference play if needed.
The SEC is, as you know, a storied softball conference, and this year was no different. While Tennessee ran away with the overall title, the conference sent 12 teams to the NCAA Tournament, leaving out only Mississippi State. Like Missouri, Kentucky, Florida, Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Arkansas all bowed out in the Regional rounds (somewhat surprising given the conference’s star power), leaving only Tennessee, whom Missouri didn’t face this year, and Alabama to fend for conference dominance in the World Series. Presently, only the Lady Vols remain, and they will face Oklahoma State (who Mizzou lost to 6-3 early in the season) Sunday evening.
SEC play for the Tigers was — let’s just put it out there — not great, friends, but I’m not here to lament that it was godawful or anything like that. The Tigers were swept by just two teams, #16 Kentucky (31-22) in the opening home series shutout (in all three games, ew), and at #21 Auburn (43-19), which featured an inability to compete against the incredible Maddie Penta in Games 1 & 3 and the inability to get out of its own way in Game 2, stranding approximately 5 zillion runners (or 12). And while there were many losses — the Tigers finished last in the SEC with a 7-17 record, after all — most of them can be chalked up to the same problems that led to losses in the non-con: ineffective pitching to go with a lack of run support, lack of timely hitting, or inconsistent production from the 5-9 hole.
The Tigers did pick up a bunch of ranked wins, however, even if it took a while (i.e. the entire SEC season) to get that sweet, sweet SEC series win. Missouri took big wins at #8 Florida (38-22), vs. #17 Bama (43-20), at #12 LSU (42-17), vs. Ole Miss (32-28), and at #25 Texas A&M (35-24), mostly in Game 1s. Because the Tigers didn’t have a ton of depth like most of the other SEC teams they’d face, to win they’d need a combination of things to go their way, like in the Texas A&M Game 2 win— Jordan Weber was phenomenal in the 8-1 mashing of Texas A&M, allowing only 4 hits in 6.1 IP while DP RIley Frizell was 3-4 at the plate.
I was particularly impressed with the Alabama win, which came in Game 3 after a pretty disastrous first couple of games. Even though it wasn’t against the indomitable Montana Fouts [salutes], it was still a run-rule 11-3 demolition of a very good team who, as mentioned already, would make it to the WCWS, AND was in a series finale. AND it led to the Game 1 win at LSU. For a team that had been grinding, it was nice to see balls actually bounce their way, and a lot of them at that.
The Ole Miss series, as we saw all season, showed off both the good and bad of this Tiger team. In Game 2, Laurin Krings had 9 K in a combined 6 2⁄3 innings, but her reinforcements in the circle let the team down, and Krings was forced back into the game to stop the metaphorical bleeding. The Tigers showed the same fight they did all season to try to get back into it, but the damage was done and Ole Miss took the game. And in Game 3, the Tigers came from behind to force extra innings only to lose in the 9th on a homerun. UGH.
Through the tough times, Coach reminded us— much like I mentioned earlier in this piece — of the team’s relative inexperience. She had to remind the team that they couldn’t make up for mistakes in one at-bat. I go back to this quote, which she shared after the Ole Miss series.
“There’s so much growth that we have to do against the best competition in the country. You can’t catch your breath. You can’t come up for air because it’s constantly All-American pitcher, All-American pitcher, All-American pitcher, so it’s really hard to build your confidence. That’s been our whole season.” She continued, “So it’s a grind and when you see that they’re having great at-bats but they’re hitting right at people, as a coach, you still try to encourage them that they’re doing a great job.”
The Tigers saved their best series for last. Going up against the #12 Razorbacks (40-19), the Tigers finally won an SEC series, and after getting shut out 9-0 in Game 1, they rebounded with Ws in Game 2 (4-3 in extras) and Game 3, 7-6. The best part of this series? Finally... FINALLY Missouri came from behind to win, taking both games in walk-off fashion off the bat of Kara Daly.
In the SEC Tournament, fans unfortunately didn’t see the equivalent of last season’s fireworks, but the Tigers’ opening 3-1 win in the play-in round over Mississippi State (28-25) showed Mizzou’s ability to excel later in the season, a hallmark of a Larissa Anderson-led team. The Tigers utilized savvy baserunning and capitalized on the Bulldogs’ defensive miscues while also getting much-needed production from the bottom part of the order, namely Jackson and Snider. While MSU’s loss likely ended their season, it clearly proved to the bracketologists that Mizzou belonged in the tourney field, even after losing 7-2 to the Tide and Montana Fouts in the quarterfinals.
On Selection Sunday, the Tigers learned of their postseason fate, and for the 17th consecutive season, Missouri earned an NCAA Regional berth. With hosting firmly off the table, Missouri headed to Norman as the no. 3 seed, where they’d have to battle with PAC-12 offensive leader Cal (35-25-1) and Big 12 juggernaut Oklahoma (56-1). After swiftly taking down Cal 5-1 in Game 1 on great performances by Laurin Krings and the top of the lineup, the Tigers faced super team Oklahoma, who blew them out 11-0 in 6 innings (don’t worry, it happens to everyone).
With just one win needed to advance to the Regional final, the Tigers faltered in their Cal rematch, losing 7-5 and ending their season. This was despite getting production up and down the lineup, to the tune of back-to-back-to-back home runs by Maddie Gallagher, Megan Moll and Payton Jackson. It all happened just a little too late. With that result, Cal moved on to face Oklahoma, where they scored 11 runs in just three innings, to go with six home runs in that timeframe, so as sad it was to see the season come to an end, I was personally okay with not facing the Sooners again.
The freshmen, who Anderson had originally planned to use a great amount, weren’t fully ready for a full season, as Chester battled an achilles injury, and Lenger was mainly used as a pinch runner. As for the transfers, while Gallagher ended up being one of the best on the team in SEC play, Jackson’s numbers lagged behind her production at Tech. Her defensive prowess, however, was to be highly commended, and the Tigers finished the season with the league’s best defense. Numbers-wise, Missouri finished 11th in the SEC in batting average and 11th in pitching.
The lack of production at some key positions this year undoubtedly puts Coach Anderson in portal mode this offseason, and after the announced losses of junior 1B/DP Riley Frizell, LF Maddie Snider, and C/DP Megan Moll (grad transfer), they’ll need some reinforcements and some good ones. In a league like the SEC, you just can’t have so much of your lineup hitting under .240; it’s just not going play out well. The Tigers’ inability to provide runs for their pitchers many times put undue pressure on them (see: many of the losses).
On the plus side, Alex Honnold was INCREDIBLE this year, with career numbers across the board, receiving all sorts of much-deserved accolades— D1 Softball 1st Team All-American, NFCA 2nd Team All-American, and (surprisingly) only 2nd Team All-SEC. She rarely struck out, took many free bases so pitchers could avoid her, stole a bunch of bags, and was a great CF (she played RF last year). Julia Crenshaw, who a year ago had all of like 4 AB, showed she’s a force to be reckoned with in her first full year of playing. Jenna was... well... Jenna, and steady as always even with a mini-slump wedged in there. Kara Daly also showed noticeable improvement, so she’s still got to work on consistency at the plate, especially in SEC play, she’s a threat in the lineup.
Laurin Krings had a great season, picking up career bests in several categories while earning her 400th career strikeout in the Ole Miss series. She had a career-low in walks (35), and while close to her 2021 total (37), she did this in 70+ more innings. Jordan Weber will be the first to tell you that her senior year was not what she imagined it to be, but when you’re playing hurt, there’s only so much you can do, and Tiger fans will be forever grateful for her contributions to the program.
Besides Weber (retirement), Megan Schumacher (grad transfer), and Emma Nichols (retirement) also leave the program. Weber and Schumacher in particular account for a lot of innings, despite the duo throwing a lot less than in previous years, so reinforcements will be needed on this staff. The Tigers will have Krings in the circle one more year, and returning freshmen Cierra Harrison and Taylor Pannell at their disposal, the latter of whom could also challenge for a starting spot.
As for what’s to come, that’s for another piece, my friends. I’ve taken up enough of your time. Thank you for hanging in there with both me and the team this season.
Against teams with losing records: 14-2
- WINS: Fordham (20-28); Butler x2 (18-35); Pittsburgh x2 (24-25); FIU (24-27); Cal Poly (19-23); Maine x2 (16-29); Tulsa (25-28); UMKC (9-48); Drake (18-34); Lindenwood (16-32); kU (25-27)
- LOSSES: OR State (15-29-1); Tulsa (25-28)
Against teams with winning records (non-tourney teams): 9-0
- WINS: BYU (35-17); Illinois x2 (29-27); UNI (39-12); SIUE (30-26); North Texas x3 (35-22); MS State (28-25)
Against NCAA Tournament teams: 12-24
- WINS: Northwestern (42-11, currently playing in Supers); Prairie View A&M (30-20, lost in Regionals); W 11-8 v. UCF (40-21, lost in Regionals); LB State (31-23, lost in Regionals); Florida (38-22, lost in Regionals); Alabama (43-20, currently playing in Supers); LSU (42-17, lost in Regionals); Ole Miss (32-28, lost in Regional Final); Texas A&M (35-21, lost in Regionals); Arkansas x2 (40-19, lost in Regional Final); California (35-25-1, lost in Regional final)
- LOSSES: Texas (45-15, lost in Supers); Louisville (36-30, lost in Regionals); Oregon (38-17, lost in Supers); OK State (46-14, to WCWS): Kentucky x3 (31-22, loss in Regionals); Florida x2 (38-22, lost in Regionals); Auburn x3 (43-19, lost in Regionals); Alabama x3 (43-20, currently playing in Supers; LSU x2 (42-17, lost in Regionals); Ole Miss x2 (32-28, lost in Regional Final); Texas A&M x2 (35-21, lost in Regionals) ; Arkansas (40-19, lost in Regional Final); Oklahoma (56-1, to WCWS), Cal (35-25-1, lost in Regional final)
Historical Data: The LA Years
Season Team Data