Missouri softball starts SEC play at Tennessee

Missouri softball heads into Knoxville with a six-game win streak, a hot offense led by junior Amanda Sanchez and solid pitching from freshman Lauren Rice and redshirt Junior Madi Norman.
Junior Amanda Sanchez, 20, laughs with teammates before the first game of the day.

Missouri softball is set to start Southeastern Conference play on Friday in Knoxville, Tennessee, against the No. 4-ranked Volunteers.

The Tigers head into SEC play at 16-7 and riding a six-game win streak. The Tigers struggled against top teams early in the season, going 0-5 against nationally ranked opponents. They will look to change that as they head to Knoxville for a three-game series against the Volunteers.

Tennessee comes into this weekend’s matchup with a 21-1 record, losing only to Florida Atlantic University. The Volunteers have a 5-0 home record after a sweep in the Tennessee Invitational. Their pitching is superb, with a team earned run average of 1.41. Sophomore Caylan Arnold leads the Volunteers as well as the conference with an impressive 108 strikeouts, 75.1 innings pitched and 20 appearances. She has an earned run average of 1.21 heading into SEC play. The Tigers will have to establish themselves early in the game and capitalize off the home run ball without allowing Tennessee's pitchers to get comfortable in the circle.

Consistent pitching will be crucial for the Tigers to win the series. Starting pitchers for the Tigers in the Mizzou Tournament this past weekend struggled with giving up home runs, giving up 10 runs in six games. But the relief pitchers were excellent, only allowing three runs in six games.

Redshirt junior Madi Norman is becoming the teams true ace and most consistent player. In the Mizzou Tournament, she pitched 11 innings between three games, giving up five hits and a single run.

The Volunteers rely on slap bunts to get it going for the offense, leading to most of their runs scored on runs batted in. Junior Aubrey Leach leads the SEC and her team with 30 runs, while sophomore Chelsea Seggern leads the conference with 33 runs batted in. If the Tigers want to take the series, they will need consistency from both the starters and the bullpen.

“We are still gonna work this weekend,” interim head coach Gina Fogue said. “We are going to develop a little more with our pitchers. Keep working on that, that’s going to be key for us, is keep working our pitchers in. Developing good change ups for all of our pitchers I think is going to be key.”

The Tigers are establishing themselves as a power hitting team led by redshirt junior Amanda Sanchez. Sanchez leads the conference in a massive list of statistics that includes hits (35), home runs (7) and slugging percentage (1.000). She’s second in the conference in batting average (.547), and on base percentage (.635). Mizzou is batting .328 as a team with 28 home runs.

Freshman Lauren Rice comes into this series fresh off her first career shutout on the mound. Rice has an earned run average of 2.89 and is heating up at the right time.

On offense, freshman Brooke Wilmes has rebounded tremendously. After going 0-14 to start the season, she is hitting .393 after hitting .500 in the Mizzou Tournament. She now has the third highest batting average on the team.

Momentum from the Mizzou Tournament sweep may help the team in SEC play when facing Tennessee.

“We’ve just kinda been ready for it, especially with how well we’ve done recently, we’re just ready to get it started and ready to get it rolling,” junior Regan Nash said.

The three-game series will start on Friday at 4:00 p.m. CT. It will be broadcast on SEC Network Plus.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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