MU softball shines in first year under Larissa Anderson

Missouri finished 32-22 in the regular season, before losing to UCLA in the Los Angeles Regional.
Head softball coach Larissa Anderson has led the Tigers through a successful spring season with a total of 12 SEC game wins. | Courtesy of Mizzou Athletics Mizzou Athletics

Many expected 2019 to be a rebuilding year for Missouri softball.

After former coach Ehren Earleywine was fired before the 2018 regular season, interim coach Gina Fogue took over. In 11 years as coach, Earleywine led Missouri to three Women’s College World Series appearances.

Earleywine’s firing flipped MU softball on its head. In the 2018 season, the Tigers finished last in the SEC with a 30-29 record. After the year, three of Missouri’s top hitters, Amanda Sanchez, Rylee Pierce and Braxton Burnside transferred out of the program. Two of Missouri’s five pitchers from 2018 also did not return to the team.

Following the 2018 season, MU Director of Athletics Jim Sterk hired Larissa Anderson from Hofstra to take over the program. Despite reaching twelve consecutive NCAA Tournaments, the Tigers were picked last in the 2019 SEC preseason poll.

“I like being picked last because you don’t have the bull’s-eye on your back and nobody expects anything from you,” Anderson said. “We just focus on what we do and what Mizzou softball is. We don’t worry about who we’re going to play and who’s going to be our next opponent, it’s focusing on making sure that we give the best effort all the time.”

Despite the change, Missouri won 12 SEC games, double from last year, and had ten ranked victories. It finished the regular season with a record of 32-22.

“I definitely think we went out to prove people wrong, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” redshirt senior Madi Norman said.

In postseason play, MU lost to Auburn 3-0 in its first game of the SEC Tournament. The Tigers qualified for NCAA Tournament play but ultimately lost to No. 2 UCLA in the final game of the regional.

After Anderson arrived in Columbia, she hired hitting coach Chris Malveaux, who has helped transform Missouri’s offense. The Tigers hit 64 home runs on the year which ranked No. 37 in the nation.

Sophomore third baseman Kim Wert, who transferred from Hofstra and played for Anderson in her freshman year, hit 19 home runs. That number ranks second in school history.

“Chris has really changed my swing,” Wert said. “When I came in, I swung like a baseball player. I had a huge swing. I really tried to take the ball yard, and sometimes it doesn’t really work like that, so he shortened me up and got me where every swing I take I can hit it out, but I’m still going to get more base hits.”

Sophomore Hatti Moore has also shown drastic growth at the plate this season. As a freshman, the catcher hit .174. This year she hit .309.

“[Chris’ impact has been] night and day,” Anderson said. “You can look at just [Moore] in general and the turnaround from last year to this year. When you have coaches that are invested like Chris, then the players almost want to play for him because he’s investing so much time.”

Sophomore Brooke Wilmes had an outstanding offensive showing in the leadoff spot this season. She earned First-Team All-SEC honors after leading the Tigers’ offense with a .356 batting average. Wilmes had the best strikeout rate in the SEC during the regular season at one every 33.6 at-bats. She also had a stellar defensive showing. After spending last season at shortstop, the sophomore moved to the outfield. Playing in both right and center, Wilmes had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in SEC play.

“[Anderson] has given me the confidence to play wherever I need to play,” Wilmes said. “She puts me out there, and I know that my fundamentals that she has taught me are going to translate into whatever position that I do play.”

When freshman Jazmyn Rollin walked into Anderson’s office on her first day on campus, she told Anderson that she wanted to be the SEC freshman of the year. Although she did not accomplish that, she batted .331 and hit 10 home runs. In April, Rollin was named a finalist for the National Freshman of the Year Award. The shortstop also earned a spot on the SEC All-Freshman Team.

Despite losing two pitchers in the offseason, the Tigers’ pitching staff has excelled under Anderson.

Junior Eli Daniel provided Missouri with a lot of help out of the bullpen. Daniel’s eleven saves ranked second in the nation.

“When starting a game you kinda have to think long-term,” Daniel said. “With closing a game, I just think about the next pitch and I find that easier. I absolutely love closing.”

Madi Norman has had a career year as Missouri’s ace. She posted a career-high 2.98 ERA and finished the regular season with a 19-11 record.

“She’s done so much for this program and she’s mentored our younger pitchers,” Anderson said. “I’m just so proud of the season that she’s had so far.”

Sophomore Cassie Gasper has also had an impressive year in the circle. The Division 2 transfer earned the second starting spot behind Norman and posted a 3.27 ERA with a 13-7 record.

“It’s definitely been great to make sure [the pitching staff] have each other’s back,” Norman said. Having more than one pitcher has been awesome. Coach has worked with all of us and she’s really worked on improving us and making sure that we can compete in the SEC.”

The Tigers should return seven of their nine typical starting hitters and all but Norman in the circle for the 2020 season.

"We have the talent, and we have the ability to beat just about anyone,” freshman Emma Raabe said. “It just depends if we stay true to who we are and play like we know we can play."

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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