Play begins Friday at University Field
By Sam Hustis and Sam Richmond
COLUMBIA – Though the Missouri Tigers softball team enters the postseason tournament having lost three straight games, they remain the favorite to emerge from the regional they host beginning Friday.
Among the teams competing, No. 15 seed Missouri has the most wins, highest national rank and best RPI. Coach Ehren Earleywine’s squad will host Bradley, Kansas and Nebraska at University Field Friday through Sunday. This is the sixth consecutive season Missouri has hosted an NCAA Division I Softball Championship regional. The tournament has a double elimination format.
The Tigers have history on their side. Missouri has won six straight regional titles, five of which have come at University Field.
Missouri opens the regional against Bradley (3 p.m. Friday), whom the Tigers defeated earlier in the season. Freshman pitcher Casey Stangel allowed just four hits in the complete game 1-0 victory for Missouri, however Tori Finucane, Missouri’s No. 1 pitcher, will start on Friday.
Preceding the Missouri-Bradley game at 12:30 p.m., Nebraska remains the favorite to topple Kansas. However, if Kansas is able to pull of the upset and Missouri defeats Bradley, the Tigers and Jayhawks will meet for the first time since MU left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference in 2012. The Tigers have a 64-43 record all-time vs. Kansas, compared to a 30-50 record all-time vs. Nebraska.
A regional championship would put the Tigers one step closer to making their fourth Women’s College World Series since 2009.
The winner of the regional advances to the Super Regional. Here’s a look at the teams playing in the Columbia regional. (NCAA rankings)
||Big Ten: 18-5
||Big 12: 7-11
||Missouri Valley: 15-12
|National Rank: No. 15
||National Rank: No. 20
||National Rank: None
||National Rank: None
The Tigers won 19 of 33 games against teams in the NCAA Softball Championship this season. Missouri has series wins against top teams No. 6 Florida and No. 7 Georgia.
On the mound, Missouri is led by freshman pitcher Tori Finucane, who posted a 1.73 ERA this season, which ranks second in the SEC. She was named SEC Freshman of the Year and to the All-SEC first team. The Tigers’ second pitcher, Casey Stangel, posted a 3.21 ERA this year.
Missouri has three hitters that batted better than .380 in the regular season: Taylor Gadbois (.422), Corrin Genovese (.387) and Emily Crane (.381). Genovese was outstanding in conference play, batting .436. Gadbois led the conference in steals with 45. Gadbois and Genovese were also named to the All-SEC first team, while Mackenzie Sykes was named to the SEC All-Defensive Team.
The Huskers faced the third toughest non-conference schedule this year, with games against No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Florida St., No. 9 Tennessee and No. 10 Arizona. They are 10-10 against this year’s tournament field, and 4-8 against nationally ranked teams. Nebraska got bounced early in the Big Ten tournament, but won 14 of its last 16 games of the season, outscoring its opponents 117-21 during that stretch. They caught Michigan on the last day of the season for a share of the Big Ten regular season title.
The Huskers have a strong pitching duo, led by senior pitcher Tatum Edwards, who went 22-11 on the year with a 1.96 ERA. She completed 25 of the 31 games she started, and she earned first-team All-Midwest Region honors from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association for the second year in a row. Sophomore Emily Lockman was also selected to the All-Midwest first-team for the second year in a row, boasting an 18-4 record and a 2.09 ERA on the year.
Nebraska has three hitters that ended the season hitting over .350. Taylor Edwards, the twin of Tatum Edwards, lead the Huskers in hitting this year. She batted .362 and started in all 55 games Nebraska played. Taylor Edwards leads the Big Ten with 19 home runs this year, good for 17th most in the country. Hailey Decker, who also started every game this season, is hitting .360, and Mattie Fowler has a batting average at .357.
The Jayhawks enter the tournament fresh off a three game sweep of Iowa State last weekend. Before that, they had lost 11 of their last 13 games. Kansas reached the 30-win plateau for the fourth consecutive season under head coach Megan Smith. They finished 33-21 on the year, good for fifth in their conference.
The Jayhawks average 4.4 runs per game, and have a team batting average of .293 on the season. Chaley Brickley leads the team with a .375 mark this year. She’s hit 11 home runs and posted 38 RBIs. Brickley was selected to the 2014 All-Big 12 second team. Right behind her is Maddie Stein, who’s hitting .353 with 12 doubles, and a team leading 39 RBIs. She was also named to the 2014 All-Big 12 second team. Ashley Newman hit .333 on the year and led the team with 12 stolen bases on 13 attempts.
Kansas in an excellent fielding team, committing only 29 errors, giving them the third best team fielding percentage of the year at .979. The Jayhawks boast a 2.59 ERA and only allow 2.8 runs per game. Kelsey Kess is the team’s best pitcher, with a 19-14 record on the year. She had an ERA of 2.41 in 206.1 innings of work. She appeared in 41 of the Jayhawk’s 54 games, including 33 starts. Alicia Pile, the team’s No. 2 pitcher, went 12-6 on the year with a 2.45 ERA in 122.2 innings.
The Bradley Braves earned an automatic berth into the tournament after winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. This is the Braves’ first appearance in five years.
Bradley averaged 4.5 runs per game while allowing 4.3 runs per game. Bradley has three players that bat north of .300 and seven that bat north of .290. Marina Groenewegen has a team-best eight home runs and 34 RBIs.
Top pitcher for the Braves is Madeline Lynch-Crumrine, with an 18.16 record and a 2.89 ERA. Jaleen Hull is also counted on for big innings, going 7-12 with a 4.25 ERA this year.