Tigers play 3-game series in SEC opener against Texas A&M

Coach Earleywine described the No. 5 Tigers and the No. 7 Aggies as evenly matched.

Senior Nicole Hudson throws the ball home Feb. 9 at the Black and Gold game at University Field. The Tigers open conference play Friday with a 9-1 record. Maneater File Photo

Coach Ehren Earleywine describes the upcoming series against the Texas A&M Aggies as "a great rivalry."

The No. 5 Missouri softball team (9-1) will face off against the No. 7 Aggies (22-1) in its SEC opening series this weekend at University Field. The first game will be at 6 p.m. today. This is the first top 10 matchup at University Field since 2011.

Against the Aggies, the Tigers trail in the all-time series 35-25. Last season, when both teams were still in the Big 12, the Tigers fought in a tough battle against the Aggies in College Station. Texas A&M won the series 2-1 with all three games decided by a single run.

“We’re so evenly matched, both these teams, hitting, pitching, defensively, stolen bases, right on down the line, and that’s why last year we had three one-run ball games against them,” said Earleywine. “It was just a really evenly-matched contest so, it’s going to be more of that this weekend, I’m sure.”

The statistics of both teams are very similar. The Tigers have a .336 batting average while the Aggies are batting .337. The Tigers have an average of nine hits per game, while the Aggies cash in 8.57 hits per game. In the pitching department, the Tigers have an overall 1.24 ERA, and the Aggies are pitching 1.28 ERA.

The Aggies have a strong pitching arm in senior pitcher Mel Dumezich, who started the season 15-0 with a 0.96 ERA lead. She saved three games in 19 appearances, and, at the plate, knocked in five home runs and is batting .295.

Offensively, the Aggies have junior catcher/first baseman Nicole Morgan and junior infielder Emily Albus. Morgan has a .400 batting average and leads the team with nine home runs. Albus is the team’s leading stealer, sporting a 9 for 12 record, and also leads the team in batting average with .403.

Texas A&M has limited its opponents to a .189 batting average, and its slugging percentage is .605, which is ranked second in the SEC. The team has struggled in errors, though, and is tied for the first in the league with 24.

“It goes back a long time,” redshirt senior pitcher Chelsea Thomas said about the rivalry. “They’ve been pretty decent ever since I've been here. They’ve been a team that we’ve always had to come with our A-game. Their pitcher is hit-or-miss, so if she’s on, we’re going to have to, be able to hit her good stuff and just play our game."

Thomas said she would be ready to go every day this weekend. The two-time All-American has an overall 0.25 ERA, with 39 strikeouts. She has only allowed one earned run in the ten games the Tigers played so far.

Because of sophomore pitcher Bailey Erwin's sudden departure from the team, senior third baseman/outfielder Nicole Hudson said she will get more innings than she anticipated.

“I’m ready for that,” Hudson said. “I’m been working really hard to get ready for games and I’m feeling pretty confident. I’m been working a lot on mechanics, trying out new things and got stuff that I never had before so it’s kind of exciting to see some improvement. It’s going to be a new experience but I’m ready to go.”

Hudson also exceeds offensively. She started the season with six home runs and is ranked first in the SEC with a 1.179 slugging percentage. She also leads the team with 14 RBI.

Earleywine said he thinks the team will succeed in this series.

“We’re home, that’s definitely helpful,” he said. “I think that they have the edge in terms of games played. But we feel good about our game plan going in and I’m confident in my group and if they play good softball I think we’re going to win.”

The Tigers will continue the series against Texas A&M at 2 p.m Saturday and will wrap it up at noon Sunday.

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