May 1, 2014
By MUTigers.com softball reporter Walt Scher (@Ctrl_Walt_Dlt)
This weekend is the final weekend of the regular season and has potential to be the best series of the year when No. 13 Mizzou Softball (40-13, 14-7 SEC) welcomes No. 6 Alabama (42-9, 17-4 SEC) to Columbia, beginning tonight at 7 p.m. The Crimson Tide have already locked up at least a share of the SEC Regular Season Championship, but if the Tigers sweep the three-game series they will grab a share, as well. Saturday's game also has special importance for both OF Mackenzie Sykes (Blue Springs, Mo.) and pitcher Alora Marble (Jefferson City, Mo.), as they will be honored on Senior Day.
Alabama is a veteran team equipped with a deep lineup and one of the top pitchers in the SEC. With Missouri's hot hitting and dominant freshman pitcher Tori Finucane (Maryville, Md.), it has the recipe for a great series.
Alabama senior Jaclyn Traina is an undefeated 13-0 in SEC competition with a 1.42 ERA and a .971 WHIP. She earned SEC Pitcher of the Week honors in March after going 2-0 and allowing only two earned runs in 14.0 innings pitched in a weekend series on the road against Florida. Finucane has been just as hot recently, earning SEC honors, as well as national player of the week recognition, for her dominant performance in the Tigers' weekend series at No. 3 Florida (April 25-27). In SEC competition, Finucane is 10-2 with a 2.02 ERA and 10 complete games. Even more impressive is her 7-0 record in Friday SEC starts with a 1.46 ERA while averaging 6.7 strikeouts.
With six batters hitting above .300 during conference and an SEC high .320 team average, Alabama's depth allows them to string together a rally from anywhere in the lineup. Haylie McCleney leads the way with a .387 average (.463 overall, tenth best in the nation) and leads the team with eight stolen bases in SEC play. Jadyn Spencer brings the power as she sports a .362 SEC average, a team-high five home runs and a slugging percentage of .672. With six batters with double-digit RBI totals and eight batters with home runs during SEC play anyone in the lineup can produce offense.
Missouri's .313 team average on the year is tied for the best average in the last fifteen years of the program with the 2009 team. The Tigers have won 12 of their last 15 SEC games and hold a +21 run differential in those games having averaged 5.4 runs per game compared to four per game for their opponents.
Junior IF Corrin Genovese (East Amherst, N.Y.) has dominated from the plate during SEC games, which has been well documented, and she earned SEC Player of the Week honors for last week's success against Florida and Missouri State. In that week's span, she totaled six hits, six RBI and 10 total bases. Her conference batting average sits at .466, second-best in the conference and is highlighted by her 10 multi-hit conference games.
Redshirt sophomore OF Taylor Gadbois has a team-best .428 overall batting average. Her base stealing success has not slowed at all as she now has 44 total swipes on the season. That single-season total ties her for fourth in program history with Julie Link's 1989 season. With Gadbois on base, Sykes, redshirt sophomore IF/C Sami Fagan (Dunnellon, Fla.) and junior 3B/C Angela Randazzo (Poway, Calif.) have feasted on opponent pitching. During conference play, the trio has combined for a .321 average and 50 of Mizzou's 102 total RBI. In nine games since returning from injury, sophomore 2B/OF Emily Crane (Troy, Mo.) has hit .296 with six RBI. Her return has been big for the Tigers, as she fills a vital role in the lineup and provides superb defense in right field.
In her final season with the Tigers, Sykes has been a crucial bat in the lineup, starting 50 of Missouri's 53 games. Her increase in run production has been especially prolific. Sykes' 51 RBI on the season has almost doubled her season total from last season (26) and is more than her career total entering her final season (47). Her RBI total and her eight home runs are both team highs. Sykes has only committed one error on the season, her lowest total in a season in which she started more than 10 games. The Tigers have appeared in an NCAA Super Regional in all three of Sykes' years in Columbia, and her success this year could make that all four years.
This season, 2014, is the first and only year at Mizzou for Marble as she transferred from SEMO after two successful years and a combined 33 wins in 79 appearances. She has been an important tool in head coach Ehren Earleywine's arsenal, making six starts and 14 overall appearances as a key reliever. In five appearances during SEC play, she has a 3-0 record and a 2.27 ERA, walking only five in 12.1 innings. With only 14 walks, two hit batters and five wild pitches, control has been a secret to Marble's success.
Having the final weekend series of the regular season in Columbia and with how important the series is, University Field will certainly be packed with Black & Gold. A Mizzou sweep would mean the Tigers will share the SEC Championship with Alabama and force a tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament. Tennessee is also in the hunt as they hold the same SEC record as Mizzou (14-7). ESPN has the coverage of Thursday's 7 p.m. series opener, as well as ESPNU broadcasting Saturday's Senior Day finale at 1 p.m. The middle game in the series is slated for Friday at 6:30 p.m.
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