Second-year softball stars shine for Missouri

Emily Crane and Taylor Gadbois have powered Tigers’ offense.

Sophomore slump? Forget about it.

With a roster comprised of nearly 70 percent underclassmen, the No. 15 Missouri softball team’s sophomore class has emerged as the Tigers’ offensive force this season, with outfielders Emily Crane and Taylor Gadbois at the forefront.

After unremarkable freshman seasons, Crane and Gadbois have now combined to lead Missouri (13-5, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) in both batting average and slugging percentage, batting .393 and .473 respectively.

With 16 stolen bases this year on 18 attempts, Gadbois has already eclipsed last season’s six steals. Her five steals and game-winning run at the Citrus Classic earned the Maryville, Mo., native a shout out from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association.

“Being aggressive is really the key,” Gadbois said. “Just getting in scoring position, really. I had a lot of steals to second base when we hit up the middle. You just have to go for it, especially in the SEC and big tournaments like that.”

Last season as a redshirt freshman, Gadbois started in just nine games out of her 40 appearances, batting .103. This year, she has started in all but two of the Tigers’ 18 games, batting leadoff.

“Increased playing time has definitely given me more chances at the plate,” Gadbois said. “Mainly just believing in myself and the team chemistry has helped everything.”

Crane led Missouri last year in batting average, hitting .376 at the top of the order. With Gadbois batting leadoff this year, however, Crane has now found herself in the third spot. The change hasn’t stopped her. She’s posted 20 RBIs so far this season, on her way to surpassing her 2013 season total of 26.

“I think being in a different spot in the lineup obviously really helps,” Crane said. “Batting leadoff, you don’t have as many opportunities to score that (statistic) of RBIs. Now that I’m batting third, I have Taylor and Sami (Fagan) in front of me so it makes it a lot easier to get RBIs.”

Assistant coach Pete D’Amour praised Crane’s flexibility as a supplement to Gadbois’ speed.

“(Crane) is hitting whether she’s in leadoff or in three-hole,” D’Amour said. “With the emergence of Taylor, that gives us more depth in the lineup, so we don’t really have to rely on Emily being the table-setter. We have Taylor to be the table-setter. The way it’s going, she gets on first, steals second and we’ve got a chance to knock her in with a hit.”

Despite Missouri’s strong start, Crane said she and Gadbois know high numbers are no substitute for experience.

“We try and go in knowing that we are beatable,” Crane said. “People can beat us, and we can’t sit there thinking that we’re not beatable because that’s putting ourselves on a pedestal and gives us a better chance to be beat.”

Gadbois expressed confidence that time will help the Tigers reach their potential.

“We don’t have as much experience, but if you wait further into season, I guarantee we’ll be one of best teams in the country,” she said. “We have such great chemistry already, and I can’t wait to see what we can do.”

With the Tigers’ home opener series against Kentucky on Friday fast approaching, realistic expectations are especially key.

“Staying level-headed will help us going into conference play,” Crane said. “We know what we can do, and we’re capable of beating a lot of teams.”

And as for that presupposed sophomore slump?

“I’m just going to let my whole last year be my sophomore slump because I did awful,” Gadbois joked.

“It’s not something anyone wants to go through, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen to me just because it hasn’t happened yet,” Crane said. “I don’t think there’s going to be room for any of us to have that slump. … We can only go up from here.”

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