Alright Switz, the first weekend is in the books and there were certainly some positives from the Tigers this past weekend. Let’s talk about those before we get to the warts.
So here's what I came up with for stats on the weekend:
Gadbois - 8-16, 8 R, 3 BB, 3 K, 5 SB
Crane - 7-17, 4 R, 6 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K, 4 SB
Fagan - 5-18, 4 R, 11 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 SB, 2 doubles, 3 HR
Sanchez - 3-15, 1 R, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 1 K
Roth - 1-11, 2 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 2 K, HBP
Genovese - 3-12, 2 R, 4 RBI, 3 BB, 1 K, triple
Randazzo - 3-13, 1 BB
Mack - 3-13, 2 R, 1 RBI, 4 BB, 2 K, triple, HR
Fleming - 2-8, 2 R, 3 BB, 2 K, double
Zolman - 1-3, 1 K, double
Cousins - 1-3, 1 K, double
Kingsley - 0-1
Harvey - 0-1, 1 K
Reed - 0-0, 1 BB
Finucane - 1-1, 15 IP, 11 hits, 2 runs, 1 ER, 6 BB, 12 K, 1 HBP
Lowary - 2-0, 12.1 IP, 8 hits, 2 runs, 1 ER, 5 BB, 15 K, 2 WP
Baxter - 1-0, 7 IP, 3 hits, 1 run, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 2 WP
There's quite a bit to say after the first weekend of softball. So in the interest of giving us both a chance, I'll limit myself to talk about three positives.
1. Pitchers not named Tori Finucane: 11 hits, 8 walks in 19 innings. Nothing wrong with a WHIP of 1.0. After watching last year's struggles in the circle when Tori was resting and hurt, it was nice to see some strong pitching in the opening games for Mizzou. Lowary was especially delightful, getting the first 5 outs of her collegiate career via the strikeout. But flash aside, it's going to be the ability to aim for, if not quite achieve, these types of performances in later season play that will ultimately matter.
2. Gadbois being Gadbois: Last year was like watching a highlight reel you didn't know was coming. It never really slowed down much last year, but on a team that is going to be as reliant on speed as this one, it would have been very disappointing to have the leadoff spot not perform to those standards. .500 hitting and 5 stolen bases is a quality, table-setting start. Maybe not the surprise it was last year, but just as valuable.
3. Solid work from the freshman: Amanda Sanchez, a highly recruited third baseman from the LA area, didn't have the greatest weekend at first glance. But she was plugged immediately into the 4, 5, and 6 spots in the lineup and played in every game. Though she only managed 3 hits, she also drew 3 walks while only striking out once. Making contact is so vital in softball, and if Sanchez can continue to make contact, I suspect the hits will come. Plus, she took over at 3rd base - a spot that was a defensive weakness most of last year - and managed 5 error-free games, including a few plays dubbed special by Mizzou softball's Twitter account.
What positives did you take from the first weekend of play, Beef?
For me, the top of the lineup was really exciting. Glad to see the power back from Fagan, as that was very much an element that I thought she’d have more of last year. She was a little all or nothing over the weekend (some singles would be nice), but considering the rate at which Gadbois and Crane were reaching base, the importance of Fagan getting some explosive plays (someone pays attention Bill), is going to be high, especially until 4-5-6 come around
I am excited about the results from Baxter, as the importance of a third pitcher is going to be high this year, especially balancing both Finucane’s health and the young arm of Lowary. Someone we can go to mid-week and some clean-up innings is what we need and Baxter looks the part at this early stage.
Don’t’ care that there is a 0-1 next to her name…love seeing Kingsley get an appearance.
The defense of Sanchez, as you said, is REALLY exciting. We still had our share of errors on the weekend, but the hot corner was not the source and that is encouraging.
Alright…talk to me about the concerns (such as they are) coming out of weekend #1
I'll keep the "group of 3" thing going for concerns
1. Non-Fagan power numbers - It isn't really the homeruns, although it would be nice to see them come along as well. But the team as a whole (outside of Sami Fagan) only had 6 extra-base hits in 5 games. Speed may be the team's forte, but it'll take a few bigger hits to bring home the runs from time to time. Just as in football, it's difficult to string together long stretches of successful, mistake-free small ball.
2. Free passes issued - 14 walks for our 3 pitchers in 5 games; that's unsustainable against good offenses, which we will start seeing this coming weekend. Good teams are going to get their hits, so you have to prevent them from getting on base otherwise.
3. Kelsea Roth - Yikes. 1-11 is brutal. Her sophomore season is looking increasingly like an anomaly right now. She did manage 2 walks and an HBP...but she also committed an uncharacteristic error. Even an average version of Roth would be massive for the Tigers, but it remains to be seen if that's in the cards.
Any concerns strike you particularly?
For me, barely any production at all from the middle of the lineup. No RBI’s for Randazzo. The slow start from Sanchez. The aforementioned Roth. Those are all tough to overcome, especially when we had to be stranding as many runners as we were.
I did actually thought we would see more people in and out of the lineup, but Coach E kept it FAIRLY consistent (at least in terms of people, as there were 8 people with over 13 plate appearances). I was excited to see what sort of depth might be there, but it looks like he may already tightening things up a bit.
Tough to come up with something bad to say about Gadbois when she goes .500 on the weekend, but 3K’s in 8 outs is too many. She needs to be putting the ball into play.
Alright, let’s turn our attention to this coming weekend what will be, by far, the toughest weekend tourney Mizzou has this season. Initial thoughts about the opponents and possible pitching rotation choices?
The Mary Nutter Classic is always good for some daunting competition, and this year's crop of Mizzou opponents will truly test the Tigers in this young season. 4 of our 5 opponents are receiving votes in both polls, and 3 of our opponents are ranked in one or both.
The group (and playing order) is Cal State Fullerton (receiving votes) and Long Beach State (NR) on Thursday, Texas (RV/25th) and UCLA (12th/12th) on Friday, and Arizona (10th/13th) on Saturday. The playing order is particularly important, because the two most difficult squads are the final two - and the timing means that Finucane might not be starting against both.
Here's how I see it playing out. The only game in which Baxter can reasonably start is the LBC matchup, so she will do that. In order to preserve Tori for the bigger games, Lowary will face Cal State Fullerton in the Tiger opener. In those Thursday matchups, I think Finucane is available only for limited duty.
Friday gets trickier. Ideally, Paige Lowary would face Texas, and Tori Finucane would face both UCLA and Arizona. However, that would mean our ace going out there for an evening game followed by an afternoon one straightaway. I don't think that's going to happen. Therefore, I think Lowary is going to get a hefty test in facing UCLA, while Finucane pitches against Texas and Arizona.
Of course, maybe Earleywine surprises me. Or maybe I'm just wrong. What say you? Would you handle the rotation differently?
I suppose it would be interesting to me if he kept Tori away from Day 1 all together, but what you wrote below makes some sense. Fullerton is sitting 7-3 with losses to Utah Valley (run ruled no less), Nevada (NR) and Notre Dame (#24). They also beat Notre Dame for their best win of the season. As for Long Beach, they’ve got a 5-2 loss to Northwestern (who has been ranked in the past, but is not this season) and have also gone 6-3 against other unranked folks.
UT has been a little up and down so far this year. They were thumped 9-0 by #2 Oregon and fell 10-9 to a Stanford team which is not in the polls. But they did come back to beat #19 Arizona State, and then turned right around last weekend and lost 6-4 to another unranked team in Wichita State (who they also came back and beat later). They have given up a good deal of runs (even in some wins), so the offense may be able to carry the day. #11 UCLA has losses to #23 aTm (who they also run-ruled) and #24 ND and no other wins of note. #13 Arizona is unblemished, though I cannot say they’ve really been challenged. They did manage to score 22 runs against Wright State, and have four other run-rules in nine total wins.
My prediction on the staff is this. I think Tori gets the ball against UC-F with Paige getting LB. I think Paige also gets UT and Tori UCLA. I also think Tori will start against AZ. I think the hooks will be quick on Friday, especially against Fullerton if some innings can be saved against her arm because of the score.
Shall we make some predictions?
Regardless of how the pitching rotation plays out, I think Mizzou is going to find a few of the games this weekend difficult. Certainly our ace can hold her own, but we still can't say whether or not our 2 (or 3) pitchers can be effective enough to keep Mizzou in difficult games (esp. if those teams are pitching their aces).
I believe that Mizzou comes away with 2 wins on the opening day of this competition, against CSF and LBS. If Finucane is in the circle for one of the two, as you suggest, I feel even more confident in that prediction.
The remaining games are difficult to predict. As you mention, the quality of competition in the opening weekends hasn't been sufficient to paint a full picture of even these quality teams. I don't see the Tigers being winless, but I think the sweep is too much to give at this point. I will guess another 4-1 weekend, with a loss to either UCLA or Arizona (meaning we will beat Texas). I think that would be a successful weekend no matter how you slice it, and would set the table nicely for the remaining early season non-con games.
Care to play different odds?
I’d be pretty excited with 4-1 to be honest, given the caliber of opponent and spacing of the games (with the three toughest potentially coming back to back to back). I would probably take 3-2 and be OK with it…anything less would be disappointing to me. I remain encouraged that the offense started getting going towards the end of last weekend and I am hopeful that momentum carries forward to this weekend. To that end, Coach E talks about Morgan Walters and his desire to get her into the lineup this weekend (towards the end)
Yay! I'm high on Morgan Walters...looking forward to seeing her get a chance
He seems real high on her as well. Am guessing she would potentially replace…Fleming?
I'm guessing Randazzo/Fleming/Roth, depending on whether he has someone who can cover first. If Walters really can hit for power, I wouldn't be surprised to see her as the DP for a game or two.
It will be interesting to track for sure. Great chance for the Tigers this weekend to make some noise, but to also shore things up perhaps for the season to come.