Thursday, December 29, 2016

Missouri Profile: How Will the Tigers Recover from Tumultuous Offseason?

General Overview/2016 Recap: The Tigers began 2016 on a seven-game winning streak, a set of games that included four run-rule-shortened victories, including a 17-2 lopsided win over North Carolina State to kick off the Mary Nutter Classic.

Danielle Baumgartner is one of the bright
spots for the Tigers' 2017 forecast after going
14-4 with a 1.98 ERA in 2016.
Photo: Mizzou Athletics
At the Mary Nutter, the Tigers went 3-2, taking losses to the PAC-12’s Stanford and Oregon.

In Fullerton at the Judi Garman tournament, the Tigers’ fate fared much better – after starting the tournament off with a blowout loss to Michigan, victories over California, Arizona State, and Baylor followed.

In conference play, the Tigers swept Texas A&M and Mississippi State and collected series wins over Ole Miss; Tennessee; and South Carolina. Trips to Tuscaloosa and Lexington ended in best-of-three series losses, while the Bulldogs of Georgia handed the Tigers their only sweepin’ series loss of the year.

A one-and-done appearance in the SEC tournament, a 7-4 extra-inning loss to South Carolina, was followed by a sweeping performance through the Regional round, outscoring BYU and Nebraska (twice) by a combined score of 26-0 en route to a Supers berth.

As the #15-overall seed, the Tigers headed to face #2 Michigan in Ann Arbor. Two tight losses to the Wolverines ended Mizzou’s season.

Off-the-field issues plagued the Tigers through the latter part of the season, postseason, and well into the summer’s offseason. A Title IX investigation was opened into coach Ehren Earleywine in May, an investigation that, clouded in much secrecy, stretched into the late summer. At one point in time, Missouri players elected to play under protest, a maneuver that ended only at the request of Earleywine himself. The mystery surrounding the investigation led to a nearly-unprecedented outpouring of support from fans and current and former players alike; the investigation was concluded with no finding of wrongdoing on Earleywine’s part. However, the investigation proved a captivating and distracting issue at times.

Around the Horn in 2016: (reflects departed players)
P - (Paige Lowary); (Tori Finucane); Cheyenne Baxter; Danielle Baumgartner
C - Kristen Mack
1B - Rylee Pierce
2B - Natalie Fleming
3B - Amanda Sanchez
SS - (Sami Fagan)
LF - Regan Nash
CF - (Taylor Gadbois)
RF - (Emily Crane)
DP - Chloe Rathburn

Carrying the Clipboards: 
One of the most polarizing figures and quietly successful coaches in the nation, Earleywine nears his 500th win in 2017 since taking over at Mizzou. His Tigers have advanced three times to the Women’s College World Series and eight Super Regionals, including the 2016 appearance. A former baseball and men’s fastpitch player and formerly the head coach at Georgia Tech, Earleywine has three conference Coach of the Year trophies on his mantle, one from the ACC and two from the Tigers’ time in the Big 12.

Adam LaLonde, also a former men’s fastpitch player, joined Earleywine’s staff this offseason. This is his first foray into collegiate softball coaching. Click here for our coverage of LaLonde’s hiring.

Former Mizzou player Gina Schneider rounds out the program’s coaching staff. Schneider is in her fourth full season as a member of the Tigers’ full-time staff after serving as Director of Operations for two years prior. Schneider, a former three-time all-Big 12 Academic selection during her time in the black and gold, is the club’s outfield and base running coach.

Former Louisville P Madi Norman joins the Tigers roster, as do incoming freshmen Bradi Kooyman; Lexi Rampetsreiter; Taylor Kirby; Braxton Burnside; Gabby Garrison; Cayla Kessinger; and Parker Conrad.

The list of “sayonaras” is significantly more lengthy. Assistant coach Pete D’Amour departed to accept the head coaching position at Kennesaw State. Senior all-Americans Emily Crane; Sami Fagan; and Taylor Gadbois all said goodbye after the completion of their eligibility. Pitchers Tori Finucane and Paige Lowary lead a list that includes several transfers, moving to Minnesota and Oklahoma, respectively.

The Tigers will kick off 2017 in Charleston, South Carolina, where they’ll face off twice against James Madison, among other teams.

An Arizona State-hosted tournament in Tempe will pit the Sun Devils against the Tigers and will also include a matchup against Wichita State.

The annual trek to Cathedral City and the Mary Nutter Classic will see Mizzou face off against Notre Dame; Texas; Washington; and Nebraska, as well as UC-Santa Barbara.

Oregon will head to Columbia for the Tigers’ hosted tournament and will play the Tigers twice. Maryland, Stephen F. Austin, and Butler finish out the tournament field.

A three-game set against conference foe Florida and a two-game matchup with Iowa precede a USF tournament that will see Mizzou face North Dakota State; Ohio State; and South Florida, along with Rutgers and Monmouth.

In addition to the Gators, the Tigers will visit SEC foes Texas A&M; Auburn; and LSU, and will play host to Alabama; Arkansas; Kentucky; and Ole Miss.

The SEC tournament will be held in Knoxville.

Worthy of note is that the March 3rd matchup against Oregon will be the first-ever regular season matchup at the brand spankin’ new Mizzou Softball stadium.

Potential Strengths/Weaknesses ---
Strengths and Weaknesses - Earleywine is a successful coach for a reason; he always seems to find a way to win year-in and year-out. Never before, though, he has seen the kind of mass exodus from the program after a season, including the loss of two valuable members of his pitching staff and three starters (though all to graduation). He retains several offensive players who, miffed by the school's perceived mishandling of the Title IX investigation, might come into the year with a significant chip on their shoulder and the desire to fight for their coach. The pitching staff has significant questions and holes to start the year and will require some serious stepping-up to fill in the holes.

Outlook for 2017: Earleywine has the support of his players - those who didn't fall into that category have seemingly moved on - but there will still be some significant hurdles to climb over to start the year. Significant questions linger in several positions, most notably the pitching circle, and in the lineup, where some of the most significant productive bats saw their swan song last season. The remaining players and newcomers will have to mesh together, and quickly, to make another run into the deep postseason. This may have to be something of a rebuilding/retooling year for Earleywine's club.

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