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Mizzou Softball: A .500 week, but are Things Looking Up?

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The Beef is back from vacation and he rejoins Switzy as they look at another hard-fought weekend in the SEC before they preview another hard-fought weekend in the SEC.

Not much small ball from Fagan this season...
Not much small ball from Fagan this season...
The Beef

The Beef:

I am fresh off vacation and ready to talk to some Softball.  The Tigers had a midweek win that ended up being a little tougher than we might have imagined before they headed south to drop two of three to #9 UGA. Take-aways from the weekend before we set our eyes forward?

Switzy:

We've been all-but-begging for improved pitching, and I think we saw a good dose of that this weekend. Tori Finucane and Paige Lowary combined for a gem on Friday; Lowary pitched solidly again on Saturday until Ehren Earleywine inexplicably brought in Cheyenne Baxter in a tie ballgame; Finucane was decent on Sunday. Walks were not nearly the problem we've been seeing - Mizzou pitchers only walked a total of 10 Georgia batters, and at least 4 of those were intentional. And no hit batters all weekend!

Unfortunately, as predicted, the Georgia pitchers were tough on Mizzou. Both staffs gave up 13 runs in the series, but Georgia avoided giving them up in quite so many key situations. While Emily Crane and Sami Fagan continued their solid play, and Jordan Zolman delivered yet another clutch pinch hit, the rest of the lineup was either inconsistent (Kelsea Roth, Amanda Sanchez) or largely unproductive (Taylor Gadbois, Kirsten Mack, Corrin Genovese). Mizzou doesn't need everyone on top of their game to produce runs, but they need more than just a couple. Particularly notable this weekend was the poor hitting of Taylor Gadbois, who can't provide much of a sparkplug to the lineup when she's striking out 6 times.

I'll continue to beat this drum - I'm very impressed with the level of fight in this team. They rarely seem to get down on themselves and they seem capable of making dramatic comebacks any time. But against quality opponents, those comebacks are going to fall short too often. The Tigers need to get themselves in more favorable positions early in ballgames.

I don't know if you managed to catch any of the action, Beef. Did you notice anything else worth mentioning before we get into previewing this week?

The Beef:

I counted five IBB’s on the weekend, so looks like just about half of the walks were pre-determined J

And I am glad you said what you did about the decision to bring in Baxter on Saturday. I was following the game along on Twitter while driving back from Florida and certainly raised an eyebrow when I read she would be coming in to pitch in that tight situation. Certainly we were very impressed with her work earlier in the season against some big-time opponents (Notre Dame being one of them I believe). But she has just not been very solid of late and I thought that game was still there for the taking. Tori only threw less than 80 pitches the night before and I think the risk of throwing Baxter there did not add up. Of course, if she gets the other outs, we laud the decision as genius, so I guess there is that.

As for the rest of the weekend, I did like the comments by Coach E leading up to the series last weekend regarding the pitchers need to just pitch and stop nibbling. Problem is, even if you decrease the number of walks (which we did to some extent), unless they are totally eliminated, that is a real fine line for this team right now. Between fielding errors and other defensive maladies (wild pitches, passed balls), walks REALLY exacerbate the problems and cause the hits we do give up to be pretty impactful.

So with the mid-week series against UNI moved to later in the month, you want to start to dive in against Miss State? The Bulldogs are 29-10 and 8-7 in conference play with a midweek game against LSU pending. What stands out to you about their season thus far?

Switzy:

Mississippi St. is in the "earning votes" part of the polls (Mizzou, by contrast, remains in 21st even after the 1-2 weekend) and they've come by that honestly by holding an 8-7 record in conference play thus far.. Their RPI is actually 3 spots ahead of Georgia's. The Bulldogs weren't frequently tested in non-con play, but managed a nice win against Notre Dame and solid victories over the types of teams one tends to see early in the season (including over shared opponents Illinois, Saint Louis, Maryland, and Penn State.

In conference, Mississippi St. is coming off a sweep of conference cellar-dweller Arkansas, and has victories over Georgia, Ole Miss, and Florida, as well as a series win against Texas A&M. They have Missouri this weekend, followed by Tennessee and South Carolina to close out their conference schedule; it is looking like a very solid season for them.

At the plate, the Bulldogs are hitting .325 as a team, averaging about 1 HR/game, and striking out quite a bit more than they take walks. Their speed overall is comparable to Mizzou's, with at least 4 players capable of taking the extra base and 70 successful attempts in 81 total tries.

Miss. St. manages their offense through a healthy dose of consistency. Devoid of the big time stars like we've seen from some other recent Mizzou opponent's, the Bulldogs instead have 8 regulars hitting between .333 and .361. Katie Anne Bailey holds that highest mark, and is one of 3 regulars with a slugging percentage over .600. Caroline Seitz is at the lower end, but leads the team with 11 homers and 37 RBI. Alexis Silkwood, Mackenize Toler, and Julia Echols contribute OBPs north of .450, and 8 players have at least 5 doubles on the year.

This is a team that isn't going to give Mizzou a break when they are hitting. Everyone in the lineup is probably capable of delivering the big hit, and that's only going to further emphasize the need for quality control and defense.

What do the Bulldogs brings in the circle and on the field, Beef? Can Mizzou find a little more magic than they managed against Georgia?

The Beef:

For two of the days (at least), we will very likely see Alexis Silkwood, who evidently is a bit of a double threat (though I don’t know if they are batting her in the games where she pitches or DOESN’T pitch…or if it is just when they need her). She is 21-7 on the season with a 2.38 ERA in 159 innings (rest of the staff has thrown only 100). 124 hits and 80 BB’s means she should be good for some scoring chances, but 164 K’s means one out per inning appears to be accounted for. MSU’s defense is decent (.965 on 39 errors), so they are not giving a ton of runs away, but it does look like Silkwood can be reached.

In the other start, it would appear we might see Holly Ward. Ward is 6-2 on the year, but with a 5.49 ERA over 58.2 innings. She has given up 77 hits and 39 BB’s with only 36 K’s, while the opposition is hitting over .300 against her (.308 compared to Silkwood’s .211). Ward has hit 14 batters this season in less than 60 innings, so who knows where it is going to land at times.

Getting back home again for Mizzou and having the week off means the Tigers come in rested while the Bulldogs come in off of Monday and Wednesday games. I agree the pitching improved (though I think we can both agree it aint there quite yet) and while MSU can put the ball in play, there somewhat relative inability to put it OUT of play (at least as compared to UGA) makes me feel better. I like us to take two of three here, with the potential to take the entire thing to be honest.

Where do you fall? Surprised my glass is more than half full?

Switzy:

I'm actually there with you. I see this weekend as a potential sweep for the Tigers, as long as pitching can stay steady at the slightly-improved-but-not-quite-enough level we saw against Georgia. Two of three should be the floor here, but a sweep would go a long way toward keeping the Tigers up in the SEC standings, and hopefully provide some confidence and momentum going into the back part of the schedule.

And here's my surprise bonus prediction: Mizzou will win by run-rule at least once this weekend.

The Beef:

Given the line we see from Ward, I could see the potential for that existing. Weather for the weekend looks really nice, so here’s hoping the ladies enjoy the week of rest and retooling and take it to the Bulldogs this weekend.