No. 3 Tigers Open Big 12 Play



March 25, 2010

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No. 3 Missouri vs. No. 12 Oklahoma
WHAT: Big 12 Conference opener
WHEN: Saturday, March 27 - 2 p.m. CT | Sunday, March 28 - Noon CT
WHERE: Marita Hynes Field at the OU Softball Complex
LIVE STATS: Game One | Game Two

After nearly a month-long homestand, the No. 3 Missouri Tigers will once again hit the road, this time as they open Big 12 Conference play against the No. 12 Oklahoma Sooners.  The games will be played at the Marita Hynes Field at the OU Softball Complex in Norman, Okla., with game one beginning on Saturday at 2 p.m. CT.  Game two of the series will take place on Sunday at Noon CT.  This opening Big 12 series should prove to be a pivotal one in terms of the conference standings, as Oklahoma was picked to finish first in the preseason Big 12 poll, while Missouri was picked to finish second.  The Tigers and Sooners are the two highest ranked Big 12 teams in both the NFCA/USA Today and Softball rankings.

The Oklahoma Sooners come into this conference series with a record of 26-7, but having lost three of their last five games.  They are currently ranked No. 12 in the NFCA/USA Today poll and are tied for No. 9 in the Softball rankings.  At last weekend's Judi Garman Classic, the Sooners went 3-2, knocking off Utah and Virginia by scores of 3-0 and 2-0, respectively, and also picking up a win against No. 8 Arizona State.  Their losses came in a pair of one-run games, falling to No. 4 Arizona, 4-3, and San Jose State, 5-4.  On Tuesday, Oklahoma fell to Tulsa 5-4 in nine innings, but bounced back on Wednesday with a 6-1 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks.  The Sooners are led by head coach Patty Gasso, now in her 16th year with OU, and assisted by associate head coach Melyssa Lombardi and assistant coach Tripp McKay.

Offensively, Oklahoma is hitting .288 as a team this season, but has hit the second-most home runs in the Big 12 (43) and has driven in the most runs with 188.  Their top hitter is senior Amber Flores, who comes into the weekend hitting .384 with seven home runs and 19 runs batted in.  She also gets on base at a .557 clip, the best in the Big 12.  Fellow senior Lindsey Vandever has posted a .383 batting average on the season, while hitting six home runs and driving home 24.  Her .704 slugging percentage leads the team.  Freshman Jessica Schults has hit 10 home runs this season, third most in the Big 12, and has 43 RBI, tied for the second most in the conference.

The circle is predominately occupied by freshman Keilani Ricketts, who has 26 appearances in the team's 33 games.  She's compiled a 16-6 record so far this season, tying her for the most wins of any Big 12 pitcher.  Her ERA registers at 1.37, and she's struck out 137 batters while walking just 47 in 123.0 innings pitched.

This weekend will mark the 77th and 78th meetings between these two schools, with OU holding a slight edge over the Tigers, winning 41 of the 76 previous matchups.  Last season, Oklahoma swept the regular season series, defeating Mizzou by scores of 6-2 and 4-2 in Columbia.  In fact, Oklahoma has won the last five regular season meetings between the two teams, dating back to 2007.  However, the Tigers exacted revenge on OU last season, as Missouri beat the Sooners 5-0 in the Big 12 Championship game, giving MU their second-ever Big 12 Championship trophy.

The Tigers are 15-11 all-time in the opening series of Big 12 play, dating back to the inaugural 1996 season of the conference.  Under head coach Ehren Earleywine, however, Mizzou is 4-1 since he took over the helm in 2007.  Last year, Missouri split the season-opening series with Texas, falling in the first game 6-2 but taking game two by an 11-6 final.  In 2008, Mizzou swept Oklahoma State 9-1 and 3-0 in the first two games of conference play, while the Tigers opened the 2007 Big 12 season with a 7-4 win over Texas Tech after rain cut the two-game set short.

After a quick two-game trip in Norman, Okla., the Tigers will head back home for a six-game home stand, beginning with a mid-week doubleheader with Saint Louis on Wednesday, March 31 at University Field.  Game one is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. CT, with game two beginning approximately 30 minutes following game one's conclusion.

With her stolen base in the fourth inning against Northwestern on Sunday, March 21, junior Rhea Taylor now sits in a tie with Julie Link for most stolen bases in a career at Mizzou with 110.  With her next stolen base, Taylor will move into first place all by herself, breaking Link's record which has stood for 21 years.

After going 12-for-20 (.600) at the plate last week with seven runs scored, Taylor has now moved up the all-time list in several other categories as well.  Already the leader in career batting average at Missouri, Taylor increased her lead over second place teammate Marla Schweisberger as her career batting average has risen to .411.  She also moved up one spot to sixth all-time in runs scored, now with 140.  She's just 10 shy of entering the top three, and only 25 runs short of breaking the school record.  Her 12 hits last week moved her into eighth-place all-time in the hits category with 188, and her career slugging percentage, now at .530, puts her at seventh place all-time in Missouri softball history.

Though their quest to break the all-time school record consecutive wins streak ended, the No. 3 Tigers still put together a solid 4-1 weekend at the Demarini Invitational, the third and final regular season tournament hosted by the Tigers this year.

The team split a doubleheader on Friday on the first day of action.  The Tigers knocked off Northern Colorado, 7-1, in the first game of the day, but fell to Ball State by a 2-1 score in the nightcap.  Taylor finished the first game 3-for-4 with two runs and an RBI.  Fleming went 1-for-2 with the home run while driving in four.  Freshman Lindsey Muller got the start and the win for the Tigers, going five innings while allowing one unearned run.

On day two the Tigers bounced back, run-ruling both Eastern Michigan and Northern Colorado.  The Tigers knocked off the EMU Eagles 9-0 in six innings, backed by sophomore Chelsea Thomas' second no-hitter of the season.  In game two, Missouri beat Northern Colorado by an 8-0 score in five innings.
Thomas went all six innings in game one, striking out 10 batters while walking just three.  The no-hitter is the fourth of her short two-year career.  The sophomore from Pleasantville, Iowa, battled out of a tough first inning and coasted to her 11th win of the season.  Game two was more of the same for Mizzou, as sophomore Kristin Nottelmann held the Bears to just two hits in five innings of work.  Nottelmann's record now stands at 6-2 on the year.

To close out the tournament on Sunday, the Tigers beat a tough Northwestern squad, 5-1, backed by another stellar performance by sophomore pitcher Chelsea Thomas. Thomas went the distance, scattering four hits and four walks across the seven innings.  She struck out 13 Wildcats batters and allowed just one run. 

After reaching base on a fielder's choice in the fourth inning, junior Rhea Taylor swiped second base for her 110th career stolen base, tying the all-time school record.  Taylor is 17-for-18 in stolen bases on the year and 110-for-118 in her career.  Junior Marla Schweisberger hit her second home run of the weekend, and team-leading fifth of the season, while driving in two runs at the plate.

After a crazy week that saw 20 of the top 25 teams in the NFCA/USA Today poll lose, Missouri held their ground at No. 3 in the country.  The Tigers went 4-1 at the Demarini Invitational, beating Northern Colorado twice, Eastern Michigan and Northwestern, but falling to Ball State in a close 2-1 game.  Washington once again held the top spot, receiving 29 of the 30 first place votes, while Michigan jumped the Tigers into the No. 2 spot while securing one vote for first place.  Arizona fell to No. 4 after losing twice last week.  UCLA rounded out the top five.  The only team to fall out of the poll was Louisiana-Lafayette, while Big 12 school Baylor jumped back in at No. 25

In the Softball poll, Mizzou was again jumped by Michigan, but also stayed behind Arizona, putting the Tigers at No. 4 in this week's rankings.  Washington came in first with all 25 first place votes, while Alabama held at fifth.  In this week's poll, no teams dropped out and no new teams entered the list.



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