Missouri tops Kansas, advances to regional championship

Mizzou will have to lose twice in the championship round to be eliminated.

It almost happened again.

After blowing a four-run seventh inning lead to Bradley Friday, freshman pitcher Casey Stangel gave up a two-run shot in the seventh inning Saturday to cut Missouri’s lead over Kansas to three.

But Stangel hung on to record the final two outs, giving Missouri a 6-3 win over the rival Jayhawks.

“I didn’t really think about it, try not to think about those things, because you don’t want anything in your head besides throwing the next pitch and throwing strikes,” Stangel said.

With the win, Missouri moves on to the Columbia Regional final. The Tigers will have two chances to beat the winner of the loser’s bracket (Nebraska, Kansas or Bradley). The first game starts at noon Sunday.

Kansas threatened in the sixth inning as well. Trailing by four, the Jayhawks loaded the bases with one out, but junior shortstop Corrin Genovese turned two to get the Tigers out of the jam.

Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said he had more confidence in his No. 2 pitcher late in the game Saturday.

“I just felt like she had better command,” Earleywine said of Stangel. “Her velocity actually even looked a little bit better today, I haven’t looked at those numbers yet, but I had more confidence late in the game today than I did yesterday, oddly enough, I don’t know why.”

Stangel called a meeting in the circle before the double play. She told Genovese to turn it like they’d worked on during practice, Stangel said.

Even with the late inning trouble, Stangel pitched well overall. She allowed seven hits in seven innings, only allowing one earned run.

Stangel will start again tomorrow, Earleywine said.

Missouri’s No. 1 starter, freshman Tori Finucane, injured her right thumb in practice Tuesday. An MRI on Friday revealed Finucane’s thumb injury to be worse than Missouri first expected. Should Missouri advance that far, Finucane will miss the Super Regionals, Earleywine said.

Junior designated player Angela Randazzo provided half of the Missouri runs herself. Her single in the third drove in one and her bomb over the left field foul pole in the fifth scored two. Her final stat line clocked in at 3-for-4 with three RBIs.

Freshman catcher Kirsten Mack started the scoring when she deposited a two-run home run into the left field bleachers in the top of the second inning. Mack hit a deep fly ball over the left field wall on the previous pitch, but the umpires ruled it foul.

“I personally thought that that was the back breaker,” Earleywine said. “To me, that was the at bat that personified that whole game.”

The meeting was the first between teams from MU and KU since Missouri left for the Southeastern Conference in 2012. Because of that, many players on both teams were experiencing the rivalry for the first time.

“I’m a freshman, so it was just another game for me,” Mack said. “Nothing more, nothing less, other than it was a regional game and we’re trying to stay in the winner’s bracket and get to the championship game to go try and win a regional.”

The fans showed up in force Saturday, filling University Field and the surrounding bleachers. There was quite a bit of chatter between the fan bases.

A string of controversial calls went against Missouri in the early innings, including a runner called out for leaving early, a catcher interference call and a close play at the plate.

“That’s the scariest thing in the world for a coach because they’re squandered opportunities,” Earleywine said. “I thought this is going to come back to bite us.”

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