Tigers optimistic heading into SEC tournament

The last time Missouri faced LSU, Mizzou won the series 2-1.

The Missouri softball team (41-15, 15-9 Southeastern Conference) was seeded third in the SEC Tournament bracket announced Sunday. Mizzou coach Ehren Earleywine’s squad will take on sixth-seeded Louisiana State in the first round Thursday in Columbia, South Carolina.

The two teams have not played each other yet this season. In the two teams’ 2013 regular-season meeting, Missouri won the series 2-1, but LSU’s sole victory was a brutal five-inning 8-0 run-rule win.

Mizzou has been buoyed by an impressive offense this season, helping them secure wins over 10 ranked opponents. Senior outfielder Mackenzie Sykes leads the Tigers in RBIs (51) and home runs (8).

“Postseason is a new season,” Sykes said. “We’ve been right there on the cusp of breaking through; we played a great game Thursday night and I think we’ll be ready once tournament time rolls around.”

Last year, Missouri was also the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament. The Tigers’ tournament ended with a 10-4 championship round loss to top seed Florida.

Freshman pitcher Casey Stangel is pleased with the team’s draw.

“We’re going to go out there and we’re going to compete,” Stangel said. “I think it’s a good spot to start and we’ve got a really good shot as long as we stay true to ourselves. Especially, our coaches said it to us this weekend, we kind of beat ourselves on the games we didn’t win, so just kind of working through that. We can beat anybody.”

Missouri had a chance to secure the regular season conference title last weekend with a sweep of top-seeded Alabama, but dropped the series against the Tide 2-1.

Sykes, who was named to the SEC All-Defensive Team Tuesday, said the Tigers are eager for a possible rematch against Alabama in the SEC Tournament.

“That one left a bad taste in my mouth, because we can play better than we did the second and third games,” she said.

Missouri has racked up four weekly conference awards this season, two of which went to freshman hurler Tori Finucane. Finucane also swept both major national player of the week awards following the Tigers’ win over Florida on April 29. LSU earned two weekly conference honors.

It was announced Tuesday that Finucane earned the title of SEC Freshman of the Year, making her only the second Tiger player in program history to receive the honor.

“It’s kind of crazy,” Finucane said. “I know a lot of the freshman who came into the SEC this year, and they’re all amazing. So it says a lot to get this award.”

She also claimed a spot on the First Team All-SEC, along with teammates redshirt sophomore outfielder Taylor Gadbois and junior infielder Corrin Genovese.

“I have general hope for this team because it is a good team,” Earleywine said. “We have a very good ace pitcher, we’re averaging almost six runs a game. We have spots on our defense that are really effective, we have spots that are weak. But I think generally speaking, this is a team that’s proven that we can beat anybody.”

If Missouri beats LSU on Thursday, it will move on to the semifinals Friday afternoon.

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