Softball loses to Texas behind Luna’s gem

By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director

The Missouri Tiger softball team faces a do-or-die situation on Sunday after they lost in game one of their weekend series with Texas Saturday, 2-0. The Tigers and Longhorns will play at noon Sunday, and a win by Texas would clinch a Big 12 championship for the Longhorns. A Mizzou victory means the Tigers are still alive for a share of the conference title, their first since 1997.

While Tiger pitcher Chelsea Thomas was strong throughout Saturday’s game, it was Texas All-American Blaire Luna who was the star pitcher of the day, surrendering only two hits and walking one through seven innings of work.

“Luna did a good job of keeping us off balance, keeping us leaning and reaching,” remarked Tiger coach Ehren Earleywine following the game. “Nicole (Hudson) was the one batter who looked relaxed up there, everyone else tightened up.”

Hudson was the only Tiger who seemed able to solve Luna. She doubled in the fourth, and gave Tiger fans a last gasp of hope by leading off the bottom of the seventh with a single. “We were telling each other at that point ‘Hey, we got this’” said Tiger catcher Megan Christopher. But Luna then retired Ashley Fleming, pinch-hitter Lisa Simmons and Princess Krebs to slam the door shut.

“We need to give Chelsea more runs,” said Hudson, “I’m pretty mad now, but nothing’s lost yet. We just gotta dust ourselves off and come back tomorrow.”

Thomas surrendered only four hits, but two managed to clear the University Field fence in spite of a strong wind blowing in. All-Big 12 outfielder Taylor Hoagland hit a two-out homer over the right-field wall with two outs in the third, and Courtney Craig added an insurance run that just cleared the wall in left to lead off the seventh.

“Chelsea threw great,” remarked Tiger catcher Megan Christopher. “That home run (by Hoagland) the ball was outside and barely off the ground.” Both Christopher and Earleywine said the 2nd homer by Craig was off a change-up. “Nothing else she was doing had been successful, I think in the same situation I might sit on change-up, too,” said Christopher.

With the win, Luna runs her record to 26-4 on the year. Chelsea Thomas finished the loser, and is now 24-5. Thomas, who already set a Mizzou single-season record for strikeouts in a year, had 7 on the day. Both Luna and Thomas are expected to start against on Sunday.

Asked after Saturday’s game if the team felt pressure, Christopher shared one thought: “Is there pressure? Yeah, there’s pressure. We wanna win.”

POST-SEASON SCENARIO–SUNDAY A “MUST-WIN” FOR MIZZOU

If the Tigers WIN–If Mizzou beats the Longhorns tomorrow, the Tigers still have an outside shot at winning the league championship outright. They will need to win their remaining three games, one Wednesday at Oklahoma State and then two at home against Iowa State to wrap up the season next weekend, and they need Texas to lose in their final game against Baylor next Sunday. If both teams win out, they will share the Big 12 as co-champs.

If the Tigers LOSE— All is lost. Even if the burnt orange should happen to lose to Baylor in Austin on Sunday and the Tigers win out, it still adds up to a Longhorn championship and Mizzou in second place.

Texas has won four Big 12 regular season championships. The ’97 championship is Missouri’s only one, although they did win the now-defunct post-season tournament twice.

TIGER FANS SET ANOTHER RECORD

Although not given a lot to be excited about on Saturday, Tigers fans did come out in impressive numbers, breaking a record set on April 17 against Oklahoma. Announced attendance Saturday was 2,404. There’s a good chance that record will last less than 24 hours with another big crowd expected Sunday. Tigers fans are encouraged to wear black for the “black out” game, and MU officials strongly encourage fans to arrive early. The main stands behind home plate and along the baselines were filled nearly an hour before the first pitch on Saturday and many fans were in standing room only areas beyond the outfield fence, with intrepid Tigers fans sneaking peaks from cars stopped along Carrie Franke Drive and golfers pausing in their game to watch the softball action from the putting green at A.L. Gustin Golf Course.

And Tiger fans should remember that next weekend’s games with Iowa State will be the final regular season home games of the season. Sunday will be Senior Day, as the Tigers honor an outstanding graduating class of the following players: Lisa Simmons, Rhea Taylor, Alaina Burkhart, Abby Vock, Megan Christopher, Kathryn Poet, Shana White, Marla Schweisberger, and Cat Lee.

Thomas sets strikeout mark as Mizzou sweeps Western Illinois

By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director

The Missouri Tigers softball team picked up a mid-week sweep over Western Illinois in a double-header, with a little history as part of the day. Tigers pitcher Chelsea Thomas set the school’s all-time single season strikeout record, as the Tigers won the games 7-2 and 5-0.

“It’s a good honor, something I’ve worked hard for,” Thomas said of the record. She recorded her 287th strikeout in the fourth inning to break the mark of Erin Kalka set in 2004.

The Tigers won game one behind 3-3 hitting by Rhea Taylor, and two RBIs each from Abby Vock and Maddison Ruggeberg. Kristin Nottleman got the win, striking out seven and giving up three hits as she moved to 14-1 on the year.

“I wanted Nottleman to have a good day, and I think this was her best outing of the season,” said coach Ehren Earleywine.

The two runs scored by the Leathernecks were both unearned. Nottleman’s ERA is now 1.63, tied for seventh in the Big 12 conference.

Mizzou scored in the first in typical Tiger fashion with Taylor beating out an infield hit, stealing second on the first pitch, then scoring on a single by Hudson. Taylor’s bat also started things in the third as she singled, stole second, went to third on a fielder’s choice then scored on another. Hudson also scored in the frame on a Ruggeberg single.

But the big inning for Mizzou was the fourth, as they batted around and scored four runs with Cat Lee doubling, Marla Schweisberger singling and then another double from hot-hitting Abby Vock bringing them both home. Taylor followed with a fourth hit in a row for the Tigers, plating Vock with a double. Shana White pinch ran for Taylor and scored later in the inning on a sacrifice fly by Ruggeberg.

In game two, the Tigers would get 10 hits including two each from Hudson and Princess Krebs and the first home run of the year for Kathryn Poet. And although Thomas gave up just two hits, Earleywine said she wasn’t at her best. But he wasn’t too disappointed at that.

“She was not especially sharp today, but maybe that’s good. She’ll be pissed about it, and really be ready for Saturday,” said Earleywine, anticipating the Tigers’ upcoming weekend. In spite of not being “especially sharp” in her coach’s opinion, she still did an acceptable job, giving up two hits and striking out eight in moving her ERA to 0.70, the lowest for any pitcher in the nation.

The Tigers prepare for one of the biggest series of the year as they welcome Texas to University Field this weekend. The Longhorns currently are in first place in the conference at 13-1, with the Tigers right behind at 11-2. A sweep over Texas will give Mizzou their first Big 12 regular season championship since 1997. The teams play Saturday at 2 and again at noon on Sunday. The Sunday game will be nationally televised on ESPN.

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Mizzou downed in rain-shortened loss, unable to sweep A&M

By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director

Texas A&M couldn’t have expected when this weekend started that “pray for rain” would be their best strategy. But, after losing the first two of the three-game set against last-place Missouri, the Aggies got a break from Mother Nature when the series finale was called after seven innings with A&M getting the win, 3-2. The game was delayed for about half an hour before being officially cancelled.

The Tigers held the lead for much of the game, after giving fans excitement in both ends of the first inning. The Aggies led off the game with a one-out triple by center fielder Krey Bratsen through the right-center field gap. But what looked like a sacrifice fly to left by Jacob House instead became a double play when Mizzou outfielder Conner Mach gunned down Bratsen with a perfect throw.

The Tigers then took the lead in the bottom of the first with Eric Garcia reaching on an error and Jonah Schmidt driving him home with a double. The Tigers added another tally in the fourth, again starting with sloppy Aggie defense as Schmidt got on board on an error, was bunted to second by Blake Brown and driven home on a Jesse Santo single.

But the Tigers couldn’t hold the lead, as A&M got single runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh, the first two off Tiger starter Rob Zastryzny. Although much of the game had been played in a steady rain, the umpiring crew of Michael Droll decided following the seventh to delay the game as playing conditions deteriorated to the point of being unsafe.

The loss drops Mizzou to 19-25 overall and 6-11 in conference. The Tigers next travel to Springfield to play cross-state rival Missouri State on Tuesday. The Bears beat MU in Columbia 5-2 last week. Mizzou then travels next weekend to Kansas State, and the following weekend will conclude the home schedule with a set against Texas Tech.

Mizzou baseball downs No. 6 Texas A&M for second straight day

By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director

It’s been a weekend for the unexpected at Simmons Field in Columbia so far. First, the last place team in the Big 12, Missouri, has beaten the first place Texas A&M Aggies twice. And Saturday, what looked like a pitchers duel turned into a rout as a nine-run sixth inning fueled by a Blake Brown homer to give Mizzou its second straight victory over No. 6 Texas A&M 9-1. The Tigers came into the set with the Texans ranked dead last in slugging percentage in the conference, but have gotten timely hits and big innings to win two in a row.

A day after a walk-off base on balls led to a come from behind 10-9 win, the Tigers started Saturday without a lot of offense against Michael Wacha, one of the better pitchers in the Big 12 this season. He started the day 5-2 with a 1.64 ERA, and gave up just two hits and no runs before the wheels fell off for A&M in the bottom of the sixth.

After a Brandon Champagne walk and a single by Eric Garcia, Jonah Schmidt struck out, bringing Brown to the plate. He parked his fifth homer of the season to left-center to put Mizzou up 3-1.

“Everyone’s getting the pitches they’re looking for, and making good swings,” a smiling Brown said afterward. “I always expected this team to pull through, and the last two weekends have been a huge boost to our confidence.”

But Brown’s homer was just the start in the sixth for Mizzou. There were more hits, seven in all for the inning. There were errors, and to demonstrate how bad things got, at one point it appeared simple lack of concentration hurt the Aggies when 2nd baseman Charlie Curl booted a grounder with the bases loaded. One run scored, and when Curl appeared to half-heartedly go after the ball in frustration, an alert Andrew Thigpen darted home. Brown even added to the total again, with a two-run double giving him five runs batted in for the inning, raising his total from 22 to 27 in a matter of minutes.

“I’d have been happy with the home run” said Tiger coach Tim Jamison of the nine-run inning. “You really can’t explain it, we just executed so well.

“Eventually, you just get guys on base and someone’s going go do it.”

In addition to the big offense, the Tigers got very effective pitching from starter Matt Stites who, making his 11th appearance of the season threw eight innings, giving up just six hits and surrendering only one run, a homer by Texas A&M catcher Kevin Gonzalez in the fifth. Stites struck out eight and ran his season record to 3-3 on the season. Dusty Ross pitched the ninth for MU, retiring the Aggies in order, although Stites said he wanted to keep going. “I tried to convince (assistant coach Matt) Hobbs to let me throw the ninth. They wouldn’t have it,” said Stites.

“I didn’t have the velocity I’d have liked, but my slider and curve were really working,” added Stites. “The win, it’s just huge. We want this sweep. We want to let the Big 12 know we’re here.”

It’s unlikely that the conference foes will be able to overlook the Tigers. Last weekend, they took two of three from Baylor in Waco, and everyone around the Mizzou team is showing signs of increased confidence. Coach Jamison says that’s translates into wins.

“You can’t win without confidence. We just want to keep building on this momentum. Better results just leads to better confidence. We hung in there and worked hard when we weren’t winning.” Now, that confidence may pay off with 3 straight wins against one of the Big 12’s, and the nation’s, best teams.

The Tigers will go for the unlikely sweep Sunday with freshman Rob Zastryzny (2-4, 3.94) scheduled to start for Mizzou against Ross Stripling (8-2, 2.43). The Tigers have not swept a series this year, and A&M has not been swept. But, all weekend, the theme for Mizzou fans might well be…expect the unexpected.

Thomas dominates, Mizzou downs Oklahoma in extras for sweep

Mizzou players meet on the pitching circle before the sixth inning during the Tigers extra-inning win over Oklahoma Sunday. (Photo by Nick Gerhardt)

By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director

The Missouri Tigers had years of frustration in games against Oklahoma melt away this weekend, and Sunday saw Mizzou complete a two-game sweep of the Sooners with another pitching gem and another heart-stopping walkoff finish, beating Oklahoma 1-0.

The game saw incredible pitching performances from both Mizzou’s Chelsea Thomas and Keilani Ricketts of Oklahoma. Chelsea, incredibly, had 17 strikeouts for the second day in a row, while Ricketts struck out 13, many with a change-up that was nearly unhittable. As regulation came to an end and one extra inning after another passed, the record-sized crowd had to wonder if the end would ever come.

But it did. Like Saturday night, it was a thriller and like Saturday night, Abby Vock scored the winning run. After sending the Tigers home winners with a homer last night in the ninth, Vock led off the eleventh Sunday with a single, stole second and then scored when Nicole Hudson singled into center. It was a close play at the plate, with neither Vock nor coach Ehren Earleywine in the third base box giving the slightest indication of slowing down.

On the day, the Tigers had 12 hits, including three from Hudson and freshman Princess Krebs, but Ricketts shut them down whenever they rallied. Tiger batters, who’d been a little hesitant the previous day, were more aggressive at the plate. “Ricketts is good,” noted Hudson after the game, “you go up thinking you’re going to swing at anything close and then, oop, you’re watching another one go by.” Four of Ricketts’ strikeouts were with Tiger hitters looking at the third strike, often her nasty change.

Earleywine joked with reporters after the game “you can ask me any question you want, because this is my last press conference. I’m done. I don’t have anything left to offer.”

“I’m just glad it’s over with. I’m exhausted.”

While the Tigers players and coach Earleywine all mentioned how impressed they were with the Sooners, and particularly Ricketts, it was the magnificent pitching of Thomas that was talked about most often. Every batter on the Sooners roster Sunday struck out at least once, many more often. Thomas punched out Haley Nix three times, and Sooners designated player Katie Norris had four at-bats, and struck out all four times.

Earleywine called it the best pitching performance over the course of a weekend he’d ever seen, noting at while at Georgia Tech he’d coached Jessica Sallinger, a two-time All-American.

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Defense strong, QB still uncertain as football finishes spring practice

Mizzou's defense dominated Saturdays Black & Gold scrimmage. (Photo by Nick Gerhardt)

By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director

Spring drills for 2011 Missouri Tigers football team came to an end Saturday with the annual Black and Gold intersquad scrimmage. And while most of the discussion about the upcoming season has centered around the battle between James Franklin and Tyler Gabbert to see who will emerge as the Tigers starting quarterback, fans were reminded Saturday that defense will be a strength.

“I’d like to think with our depth and personal, we can be a real good team again defensively,” said Tiger coach Gary Pinkel. “We got a lot of guys on the defensive line. We got 3 starters back, three guys who’ve started at linebackers, I think our safeties and corners are coming around, which I thought they would, that doesn’t surprise me. Tavon Bolden had a great spring, he’s got a William Moore type ability, so we got a lot of things in place.”

Another strong point in the defensive backfield may be emerging in cornerback E.J. Gaines, a sophomore from Independence, Mo. “He might take my job some day. You’re gonna notice him on Saturday, he’s going to make a lot of plays. You all will know who he is,” raved teammate Kip Edwards. Gaines made an excellent play intercepting a Blaine Gabbert pass, and broke up two other passes in addition to making two tackles. Reserve free safety Braylon Webb led the team with seven tackles.

The first team offense scored twice in the first half of the scrimmage, taking on the 2nd stringers, with Grant Ressel hitting a 25 yard field goal and later with Franklin hitting Columbia Rock Bridge product Brandon Gerau on a 1 yard pass. The reserves scored on a 32-yard pass from Franklin to Marcus Murphy and a 43-yard field goal from backup Trey Barrow.

As the team moves into the summer, it’s offense, and in particular quarterback that’ll dominate most discussion about the upcoming Mizzou season. Both Franklin and Gabbert expressed some satisfaction with their play Saturday, but both also saw need for improvement.

Asked about his main goal for the day, Franklin said he wanted to “move the offense. Always get positive yards, the quarterback affects what everybody else does on offense.” He said his performance for the day was “pretty good,” and that he wanted to spend the summer working on relationships. “We want to be on the same page even when things break down.” And when the topic of his spot at No. 1 on the depth chart came up, Franklin said “I can never be comfortable with Ty, he’s a hard worker so I know he’s going to come back and get some push in there, I just need to continue to work hard.”

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Thomas stifles Aggies as Tigers sweep with 3-0 win

By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director

The Missouri Tigers played two games in broad daylight this weekend. One started Saturday afternoon at 1, the other Sunday morning at 11. But there’s a decent chance the biggest moment of the weekend for Mizzou was Saturday night, a little before 9:00 pm.

After giving up 5 hits and 3 runs yesterday in a 6-3 Tiger win, Chelsea Thomas didn’t feel good about her performance. Knowing she’d be back in the circle for game two on Sunday, she had to find out what happened.

“She was at the Athletic Center last night about 8:45 watching video,” explained Tiger coach Ehren Earleywine. “While most students were hanging out in their dorm room, she was trying to see how to do a better job today.”

And that she did. Only one Aggie reached 2nd base, and she stole it, and Thomas scattered 4 hits while striking out 9 and walking just one as the Tigers beat the Aggies 3-0 to complete their sweep of the Big 12 rival.

“I got ahead in the count today, I had better control on the drop but also switched some things around on my riseball,” said Thomas. Several of her strikeouts were on riseballs, pitches that ended up in the batters eyes, tantalizing to swing at but, at least from Chelsea Thomas, virtually unhittable.

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Miami fans not heartbroken at loss of Haith

By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director

When Arkansas took Mike Anderson away from Missouri to become their head basketball coach a couple of weeks back, Tiger fans were pretty angry. They were unhappy their coach had left, unhappy about how he left, and in general most wished that Mike Anderson had stuck around.

Now that Mizzou has done the same to another fan base, their reaction seems to be…relief.

Greg Cote, columnist with the Miami Herald, told KBIA that while Haith may be successful at Missouri, his time at Miami was a bit of a letdown and fans there are not sad to see him go.

“He’s not a beloved coach down here. Not a lot of Miami fans are wringing their hands down here. Missouri, a pretty established program over the years, is hiring a guy who is pretty much on the outs here.”

In a poll on his blog at the Herald’s website, 66 percent of those responding are “glad” he’s gone and felt he was a disappointment, 22 percent have mixed feelings and only about 12 percent are sad he’s leaving.

However, while Hurricane fans may not have been impressed with Haith as a coach, like most people Cote was very impressed with him as a person. “You can question him as a coach, but you can’t question the man that Missouri’s getting. He’s a good guy. He’s a man of integrity. He’s a good recruiter for a reason, he sells himself honestly. He’s earned that respect, and I think the world of him personally.

“Maybe the change is what he needs, maybe he’ll do great there. But here, he just wasn’t able to get over the hump and build the fan base.”

One other thing that should be good news for Tigers fans is that Haith is known for an upbeat style that Tigers fans have become used to. “This is a guard-driven team that likes to get the ball up the court, Haith is a guy who’s going to fit what Missouri likes to do, and will recruit to that style. He likes those quick guards.”

Cote also noted that Miami had been closer to having a good record than some might realize. At one point, the Hurricanes lost four conference games in a row, falling to Florida State, North Carolina State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech…by two, two, three, and four points respectively. They entered the streak at 12-5 and feeling good about the season, but the close losses had to wear confidence down. The Hurricanes still came into the ACC tourney with a chance at one of the last NCAA at-large bids but they lost those chances with a second round loss, against to North Carolina, again by an achingly close margin—two points.

“His teams lost a lot of close games, it seemed like he was always almost ready for the next level and could never quite get there,” said Cote. “But the bottom line, the fans are happy for a change.”

Tiger gymnasts take on national powers at NCAA Regionals

By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director

After one of the most successful seasons in program history last year, 2011 was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Missouri Tigers gymnastics program. They graduated an outstanding class of four athletes, including All-American Sarah Shire. They came into the new year with just one senior. Every excuse was available.

Instead, the team fought through early season losses, and showed continuing improvement to the point that now, for the 10th straight year, Mizzou is headed to an NCAA Regional. This weekend the Tigers will compete at the Lloyd Nobel Center in Norman, Oklahoma with the host Sooners, Utah, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Washington also taking part.

While participating in an NCAA regional has become the standard for this perennial top-25 program, there are goals to be achieved this weekend.

Tiger head coach Rob Drass said, “We’d like to come out one or two, that may be a bit of a reach for us. You gotta set your goals high. Honestly, our goal is to reach the top 25, we’re ranked No. 33 right now, and would like to improve that before the end of the season. The team has been training well, we kind of got back on track at the Big 12 championships.”

Mizzou hosted this year’s conference meet, won by Nebraska in their final year of Big 12 competition before leaving for the Big 10 next year. Missouri finished fourth, out of four teams, but was quite happy with their overall performance including a score of 194.975 and an All-Around championship for Tiger junior Mary Burke.

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Anger okay, but Mizzou fans need to keep level heads with Anderson’s departure

By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director

Did you ever do something knowing as you started “don’t do this” and then you go ahead and do it anyway? I knew not to go online this morning, and I did it anyway. Big mistake.

It’s the morning after we learned that the rumors at which we’d been scoffing were true and that Mike Anderson was moving away to take the open head coaching job at the University of Arkansas. And while the reaction was somewhat predictable—after all, coach Anderson had promised fans just days before he was in Columbia to stay—I still knew it was a mistake to go online to the “discussion boards” where fans, whether they know what they’re talking about or not, gather to put their thoughts forward for all to read. People post anonymously, so there’s no consequences from posting something untrue, nasty, insulting, or stupid. And, therefore, these forums are chock full of the untrue, the nasty, the insulting, and the stupid. On ordinary days, and especially at a time like this.

Maybe it’s because I was ready for a little nasty. Like the rest of my brothers and sisters in the media, I spent a chilly, windy evening waiting outside Mizzou Arena hoping for coach Anderson to deem Missouri fans worthy of a comment, however brief. When he snuck out of the building—and no, when you read that he “snuck,” or “skulked,” or “weaseled,” out of Columbia, it is not an overstatement—he not only thumbed his nose at the reporters who’d worked with him for five years, but at the fans who depend upon us to be their eyes and ears within the program they care about. It was a rotten way for a guy whose character I’ve defended and praised since he arrived on campus to end it. From setting up trucks to block the view of reporters at the airport (it’s been reported—I was not at the airport) to driving an SUV up the sidewalk at Mizzou Arena and jumping out to get behind locked doors fast, to having a team manager moved said SUV, to sneaking out and leaving in another vehicle, all designed to avoid questions we all want answered. If you cheer for the Tigers, Mike Anderson insulted you with his actions Wednesday. So, maybe I thought I was in the mood for what I’d find in the internet sandbox of the online forum.

I was wrong.

There are a few fans being mature about this, saying they’re upset or even angry about MA leaving, that they feel mad about being lied to, that they think he’s used other schools to squeeze Mizzou for more money. But, that they wish him well and are glad he came our way and took our program from the low point at which he found it to a position of strength. But, those views were in the distinct minority.

More likely to be found were the cheap attacks. The claims that he can’t coach and that Mizzou is better off without him. Oh, please. That he knew all along that he would be leaving and just lied all along, rather then making a sincere mistake and changing his mind. Uh, no. That Mizzou’s a better job than Arkansas and that Anderson’s a fool for making this move. Sorry. With the facilities, the money, the conference affiliation, and the loyal fan support (a word Mizzou fans would do well to look up and study) Arkansas’ one of the better jobs in the nation, and certainly a better job than Mizzou, although not as much as it would have been five years ago. Thanks, incidentally, in no small measure, to Mike Anderson.

And, I’ve expressed before concern about the influence the snarky nature of the internet is having on “mainstream” sports reporting, and we’re already seeing that. For instance, in the Kansas City Star, a columnist tried to claim that Anderson’s not that good a coach at all, that all he really has going for him is friends whose sons are good players. If Matt and Phil Pressey are the only recruits of value to come to Mizzou in Anderson’s time, I’m the Easter Bunny. Anderson’s recruited well, taught the game well to his players, won an awful lot of games in an extremely tough conference, and (with the possible exception of Wednesday) didn’t embarrass the school at any point with behavior, either his own or his players’. Do I really need to remind MU fans how much of a switch from the past that is?

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