Mizzou softball ready to make another run
Between Missouri Softball’s heartbreaking loss to James Madison in game three of the NCAA Super Regional and the Tigers’ season opener against Penn State in Florida lie 257 days of preparation, anticipation, and hope. In a stellar season, the 2021 Missouri Tigers battled past expectations, dominating their NCAA Regional Tournament and finishing just one win away from the College World Series. Mizzou ended up ranked eighth in the nation after barely squeaking into the top-25 at the beginning of the campaign.
Now, the Tigers are seeking change: A different approach to the season, and what defines success for a team that is coming off the backs of barely losing their home Super Regional and earning a number of honors along the way. The change in culture for the Tigers is easily described – winning shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Here is our look at Larissa Anderson's 2022 roster.
Over the course of those 257 days have come many distinct honors of which Missouri softball can celebrate. Numerous All-SEC players, All-American players, and more were cause for celebration over the offseason, but the paper can only do so much. The true focal point for the Missouri Tigers over the intermission was returning their entire infield after three seniors – Hatti Moore, Kendyll Bailey, and Kimberly Wert – all elected to return for the 2022 season. On top of this, the development of younger guns such as Emma Raabe and Jenna Laird give the Missouri infield much to anticipate entering its “prove-it” year.
Receiving a nomination for preseason All-SEC was catcher Hatti Moore, who has elected to return for her super senior season. A fifth-year player for the Tigers, Moore is no stranger to the spotlight. With a batting average of .320 and a team-leading OPS of 1.077, Moore has a natural sense of domination at the dish. Her 17 home runs tied her for the team lead with Wert. Moore also possesses a knack for the defensive side of the ball, recording over 300 putouts over her 2021 season and catching seven players on the basepaths.
Laird, the freshman phenom shortstop from New York, was able to take home SEC Freshman of the Year and 2021 All-SEC first-team honors, which have set her up for a statement sophomore season operating out of the middle infield tandem. Laird’s early dominance at the shortstop position on defense as well as her keen eye at the plate has not only allowed her to garner SEC Freshman of the Year honors but numerous 2022 preseason honors, including an All-SEC preseason bid and a third-team All-American nod from Softball America. This, many would say, is a large honor for a sophomore.
“[Hatti Moore and Jenna Laird] are way more deserving of that award than a ton of people because of their hard work, their mentality, and how much they put into this program," outfielder Brooke Wilmes said. "It’s so fantastic that, even though we have this underdog mentality, our team is still getting recognized because of our success last year.”
On the other side of the middle infield is Kendyll Bailey, a graduate senior whose contributions at second base have run deep across the years. Bailey maintained a fielding percentage of .995 over the course of the 2021 campaign – the highest among returning infielders. One of just four players to start every game of the season, Bailey finished the season as part of ten double plays, most among the Tigers.
“Having a strong midfield is a big part of the defensive mentality," Bailey said. "Having Jenna step up there last year is huge, and to have a shortstop who is stable and you can count on is even bigger.”
Rounding out the corners of the infield are graduate senior third baseman Wert and senior first baseman Raabe. Both are defensively sound with eye-popping stats. Raabe’s 334 putouts last year solidified her as the go-to first baseman and was aided with 78 assists from Wert throughout the campaign. Offensively, Wert finished in a tie for most home runs with 17 and ended her year second in slugging percentage with a .644. Raabe also had a presence at the plate, finishing with 28 walks on the year. Among the team leaders in bases-on-balls, Raabe ended her year with an on-base-percentage of .400. The two combined for 26 home runs last year.
It’s always a plus for a team to return its key players, but to return an entire unit is a unique situation that will provide much momentum for the Tigers across the 2022 season. An infield that has been working together for an entire year prior will surely find success throughout this season and look to iron out smaller problems as the year progresses.
Laird’s .369 batting average finished second on the 2021 team, behind just Wilmes who hit .373. Wilmes has a fair number of honors to her name as well following a spectacular fourth season in the black and gold.
Wilmes’ resume has improved nicely over the past offseason, earning multiple honors to the tune of 2021 All-SEC second-team, 2022 preseason All-SEC and a first-team All-American bid from Softball America. A graduate student from Johnston, Iowa, Wilmes brings a dual-threat outfield presence to the Tigers as her outstanding plate presence is paired with a strong arm in the outfield.
Wilmes’ company in the outfield is Casidy Chaumont, a fellow outfielder who established her presence in both corners of the outfield with a 1.000 fielding percentage last year. Known for her highlight-reel plays which have been featured on SportsCenter numerous times, Chaumont is a spark plug in the outfield as a putout machine who will sacrifice her body at any given moment to save a base hit. Her combination with Wilmes to fill out the strong side of the field has given way to an intense outfield presence over the past season and will continue to drop jaws.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Cayla Kessinger elected not to return to Missouri for her final season of softball back in December of 2021 after a spectacular career in the outfield. Likely stepping into the hole that now stands in the outfield, at least on occasion, is sophomore Alex Honnold. Honnold’s freshman year saw her make multiple starts in right field while also batting .278 on the season – good for sixth on the team last year. She was also known to occasionally step into the infield, particularly at second.
With the pairing of Honnold and other young guns with Chaumont and Wilmes, the outfield should see another big year as the Tigers prepare to back up their 2021 breakout season.
Missouri will return every pitcher from last year's squad but one. With the circle being dominated by young guns and the only exiting pitcher from the year prior being Sophie Dandola, this year’s team should build upon last year and looks to put up even better numbers.
Leading the Tigers in ERA in 2021 was Megan Schumacher, who finished at 2.69. Schumacher, a junior from East Fishkill, N.Y., established herself as a strong pitcher in the SEC as her top-20 ERA carried her to a 10-3 record on the year, the second-best record on the Tigers. Her WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) was second on the team as well, trailing only Jordan Weber.
Weber, another junior for the Tigers, led Missouri with 119.1 innings pitched as the team’s ace. Her 2.82 ERA paired with a team-leading WHIP of just 1.06. Weber was also able to chop opposing batters’ numbers in half during the 2021 season, as batters facing the then-sophomore hit just .180 on the year.
Coming in second in innings pitched in 2021 was Laurin Krings, now a sophomore, who led Mizzou in strikeouts with 122 on the season. Krings was the only Tiger to average more than a strikeout per inning and will likely continue to provide her arsenal as a starter and in relief. Krings finished 12th among the SEC in strikeouts at the end of the 2021 season in her first season. Krings also ended the year with an 11-3 record: best for a Tiger pitcher in the 2021 season.
Finally among returning pitchers is Emma Nichols, a junior from Hillsboro, Mo., who primarily served as a reliever in the 2021 season as she saw 27 of her 32 appearances come out of the bullpen. Nichols was able to keep her ERA at 2.94 last season; third among Tiger pitchers. Finishing with 47 strikeouts in 66.2 innings pitched, Nichols looks to keep her spot as a strong reliever intact while potentially working her way into more starts as her arm continues to improve.
In the fifth spot at pitcher comes a new face. Freshman hurler Jayci Kruse of Coto de Caza, Calif., looks to step into a big role as a key reliever for the Tigers this season. Following the graduation of Dandola, Kruse steps in as a true freshman previously ranked #64 in the countryout of high school. Dominating prep opposition with an ERA below 1.00, Kruse has a great opportunity to play some key innings for Missouri and prove that she can play with the SEC, even as early as her freshman year. She’ll look to replicate Krings’ early dominance for the Tigers as she opens up her career at Mizzou.
OPENING WEEKEND PREVIEW
As the Tigers open their season in the Northern Lights / Southern Nights Invitational, the team gets the opportunity to square off against multiple top teams including ranked foes in the #13 Virginia Tech Hokies and a strong #24 Liberty team. But first, Missouri will open up its season on Friday, February 11 at 9:00 a.m. CST against Penn State University in Leesburg, Fla. We’ll highlight the matchups from the first three days of play as the #11 Missouri softball team gets its 2022 campaign underway.
FRI 2/11 9:00 A.M. VS. PENN ST.
The Tigers, as previously stated, will go up against Penn State at 9:00 a.m. CST on Friday. It’s hard to draw any serious conclusions about specific teams at the start of the year, but going off of the simple fact that Penn State finished with a record of 7-34 in 2021, the Tigers should be set to roll against the Nittany Lions given that they don’t take their foot off of the gas going into the first game of the season. If given the opportunity to make a prediction, this should be a Missouri Tigers win to start the season.
FRI 2/11 11:30 A.M. VS. UCONN
Following the Penn State outing, the Tigers are scheduled to play Connecticut at 11:30 a.m. CST immediately after. Connecticut has established itself as fairly middle-of-the-pack in Big East play, finishing with a record of 22-20 on the year in their first year of return to the Big East. The last time these two clubs faced off was in March of 2002, where the Tigers took home a 9-2 win in the Columbia Invitational.
SAT 2/12 2:30 P.M. VS. WISCONSIN
Saturday’s action is where Missouri will be put to the test as back-to-back matchups against Wisconsin and Virginia Tech will push the Tigers to their limit. Beginning with the Wisconsin matchup at 2:30 p.m. CST, the Badgers find themselves in a day three matchup with Missouri following four games (including #19 Kentucky and #13 Virginia Tech) and in the latter half of a doubleheader with Akron coming at 12:00 CST. Wisconsin finished 18-22 in 2021, even finding themselves in competitive games with the aforementioned Penn State. Last facing off four years ago in the Mary Nutter Classic, Missouri won 7-3 and leads the all-time series 3-2. Once again, on paper, Missouri proves to be the better team here. If they could get out to a 3-0 start after playing teams of slightly lower caliber, it could build momentum heading into the next matchup.
SAT 2/12 5:00 P.M. VS. #13 VA. TECH
The game of the early season. Only four games deep, but a marquee matchup with Virginia Tech in Florida will likely go down as one of the highlight games of the non-conference. Missouri with a chance to prove itself in Leesburg as the Tigers attempt to ward off the Hokies. Last year, the Hokies finished ranked in the low 20’s after appearing in a super regional against #2 UCLA. Despite their best efforts and a game one victory, Virginia Tech fell there and now the two teams with similar stories face off in an opening weekend thriller in Florida.
Finishing 37-15 on the season, the Hokies lost virtually no players. Returning everyone from a great season generates a lot of momentum going into the next season, and this case is no exception. Like Missouri, the Hokies will play three games between Friday and Saturday before their matchup on Saturday evening. There’s no reason to believe that Missouri can’t win this one, but it’ll be a tough one for the Tigers. This contest could come down to a duel between pitchers, and with both teams playing an equal number of games in the same time frame, it’ll be interesting to see who comes out on top.
SUN 2/13 12:00 P.M. VS. #24 LIBERTY
The morning immediately following the game against the 13th-ranked team in the nation heeds way to another top-25 matchup when the Tigers meet the Flames for one last game for the weekend. Liberty was able to defeat Virginia Tech last year, so comparatively they shouldn’t be taken lightly. Finishing 44-15 in 2021, the Flames lost to James Madison in the Knoxville Regional Final in game six as the Dukes advanced to the super regional to eventually play, and defeat, Missouri. The Flames graduated two of their top three hitters in Amber and Autumn Bishop but were able to transfer in Lou Allan, a graduate of Michigan, who batted .383 in her senior season with the Wolverines.
Liberty will likely have to spend some time finding its footing, having lost a few key pieces over the offseason and having to spend some time implementing their new first baseman, Allan, into the lineup. Missouri will have exhausted much of its energy from a large contest the night prior and will have to go into this one against a Liberty squad with three pitchers with an ERA at or below 2.62. This one will be a tough game to round out the weekend.
“It’s early, but we still play our game," Kendyll Bailey said. "It’s the same game we’ve all been playing. It’s the same as if we matched up at the end of the season. We can’t think of, ‘Well, they’re ranked this, they’re ranked that,’ because it’s not a successful mindset. Going in, coming out strong, knowing who we are and playing our game. I think it’ll be a good matchup.”