Tigers steamroll their way to SEC title game
When Tennessee softball came to Columbia in March, the visiting Volunteers played a pair of conference games in which they dominated the Missouri Tigers. Almost two months later, the two teams matched up in the SEC Tournament semifinals. When it mattered most, it was the seventh-seeded Tigers who turned the tables on the third-seeded Vols. Jordan Weber and the Missouri defense led the way in a 3-0 win to advance to the Tigers’ first SEC Championship Game since 2013.
Weber started the contest for the Tigers in the circle threw her second complete game shutout of the week in Gainesville. Weber struck out just one batter over seven innings but gave up six hits and walked nobody en route to a complete-game shutout – the third such performance between Weber and teammate Laurin Krings in three tournament games.
"It's the confidence that we have and our hitters getting those insurance runs for us,” Weber said. “Even one run on the board can let you breathe a little bit.”
The support for Weber came from a trio of solo home runs. Kimberly Wert broke the ice leading off the fourth inning to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead on her 17th homer of the season. One inning later, catcher Hatti Moore came to the plate with one out and took the second pitch to deep left-center field for a home run to extend the Missouri lead to 2-0. Moore’s seventh shot of the year exited the park at such a distance that the softball got lodged in a nearby palm tree. It stayed there the rest of the game.
“Being in this spot today is an incredible feeling,” Moore said. “I'm really lucky to have the teammates that I have and to not only be in the position that we are in but to be with them. That's just icing on the cake, really."
A lightning delay occurred immediately after the Moore home run, giving way to a pause that lasted two hours and 32 minutes. There was some discussion over whether or not the delay would cause the pitchers to need to be replaced at the resumption of the game, but both starting pitchers remained in the game and may have even improved after the break.
“The rain delay didn't change anything,” Missouri head coach Larissa Anderson said. “If you could have been in the locker room experiencing these relationships, what they do every single day, and how much they care for each other, you'd understand what we're doing right now. It's just so much fun to be a part of.”
Both offenses exited the lightning delay with two scoreless frames. Kara Daly ended the drought, however, when she blasted a solo home run to left field to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead. The third solo home run of the day gave Missouri a three-run edge and gave Weber some breathing room before she took the circle to close the game.
“The hitting was contagious,” Volunteers head coach Karen Weekly said. “But sometimes, when you're not hitting, that can be contagious too.”
The trend continued for Tennessee in the bottom of the seventh as Weber worked a groundout, strikeout, and received a Gold Glove play from Daly at third when she threw the last runner out from one knee after diving along the foul line to knock down a line drive. The third shutout in three tournament games for Missouri set up a 3-0 win for the Tigers over Tennessee. The win moved Mizzou into the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2013 when the Tigers lost 10-4 to first-seeded Florida in Lexington, Ky.
Missouri is set to play either first-seeded Arkansas or fifth-seeded host Florida. Either way, Mizzou will be the road team. They have a chance to take home an SEC Championship for the first time in program history on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. Florida and Arkansas are the only two teams in the SEC that Missouri has not played this season.
“I'm so excited for these young ladies and our University to be in the situation. You know, we're set out to win championships and that's what we want to accomplish,” Anderson said. “Last year we experienced what it would be like to be one game away from going to College World Series. Here we are, one game away from [winning] the SEC Championship. That's what they dream of. Hopefully, we're having a real good conversation tomorrow.”