On Sunday evening, it was announced that as the #9 overall seed, the Missouri Tigers have been selected to host an NCAA Softball Regional. The Tigers (47-11) first round opponent on Friday (6:30 P.M.) is Creighton (37-21). DePaul (38-16) and Illinois (43-6) will square off in other first round action on Friday (4:00 P.M.) in Columbia. With a double-elimination format, the first-round winners play at noon on Saturday, with losers' bracket games to follow at 2:30 P.M. and at 5:00 P.M. The regional will conclude with the championship game(s) beginning at 1:00 P.M. on Sunday.
The winner of the Columbia, MO Regional will advance to face the winner of the Atlanta, GA Regional, which is being hosted by #8 overall seed Georgia Tech, in a best of three Super Regional match-up.
Missouri junior Rhea Taylor talked about hosting a regional.
"We're really excited," said Taylor. "It's always good being at home in front of our fans. We were real excited to find out we would be at home."
The Tigers enter NCAA play without the services of ace pitcher, Chelsea Thomas. She will miss the remainder of the season as she continues to recover from a stress fracture in her pitching forearm.
Senior Jana Hainey (10-2, 2.90 ERA) and sophomore Kristin Nottelmann (19-7, 2.27 ERA) will handle the duties in the circle for the Tigers.
Coach Earleywine talked about how his team has dealt with the loss of their ace.
"That's who we are," said Coach Earleywine. "We've been that way for a month and a half now.................. Obviously, we're disappointed. We wish she could've come in at the post-season, and been ready to go. But, the clock just kept ticking on us, and she never got there."
The prolific Tigers' offense features five or six .300 hitters in the starting line-up (depending on which starting line-up Coach Ehren Earleywine is going with in that game), and a team batting average of .302 on the season. Missouri is led by All-American Candidate junior Rhea Taylor (.455 BA, 58 R, 39 RBI), freshman sensation Jenna Marston (.389 BA, 43 R, 52 RBI), and sophomore Ashley Fleming (.354 BA, 35 R, 39 RBI). Taylor of course, is the school career record holder in stolen bases and runs scored, and led the Big 12 this season with 41 pilfers. With another season remaining to be played, Taylor will leave Missouri with multiple school records, which will likely be challenged by some of her younger teammates, or some of the talented young recruits on their way to Missouri.
It will be fun to see how the Tigers fare in the National Tournament without their ace pitcher. They've adjusted to playing with what they have, and have accepted the challenge. Both Hainey and Nottelmann have had brilliant moments of late, but both have gotten roughed up at times, too. If the Tigers can get their bats going this week-end, they just might win a trip to Atlanta.
The Tigers' first round opponent, Creighton, won the Missouri Valley Tournament, after a third-place finish in the conference season. Their offensive attack resides primarily with two players, MVC Player of the Year, 1B Renae Sinkler (.381 BA, 25 HR, 58 RBI), and Amy Baker (.329 BA, 15 HR). In the circle, the Blue Jays rely heavily on their ace, Tara Oltman (32-12, 1.62 ERA).