Preview: No. 17 Mizzou softball opens season equipped to succeed

The Tigers are poised to make 11 straight years of postseason play.
Missouri Tigers softball head coach Ehren Earleywine celebrates after player Abby Vock (10) is declared safe at home plate at University Field in Columbia, Mo. Earleywine was involved in a heated email exchange that was made public by espnW.

For the 10th straight year, Missouri softball begins the season ranked in the preseason USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division I poll. The Tigers have also made 10 consecutive trips to NCAA postseason play. Last year, Mizzou finished No. 15, reaching the Sweet 16, and begins this year at No. 17.

The Tigers are one of nine Southeastern Conference teams ranked in the top 25 to open the season. The SEC is loaded this year, with four teams in the top 10. Auburn, the highest, is ranked No. 2 in the nation.

Missouri is slated to face 11 preseason top-25 teams this year between its conference and nonconference schedules. The Tigers’ nonconference matchups include games against No. 14 James Madison, No. 9 Oregon, No. 22 Notre Dame, No. 13 Washington and No. 25 South Florida.

This is head coach Ehren Earleywine’s 11th season in Columbia. He has achieved eight NCAA super regional and three Women’s College World Series appearances while at Mizzou. Earleywine is welcoming seven freshmen from the class of 2016. Braxton Burnside, Parker Conrad, Gabby Garrison, Cayla Kessinger, Taylor Kirby, Bradi Kooyman and Lexi Rampetsreiter make up the 2016 recruiting class. Earleywine believes several of the recruits will make an “immediate impact” for the program.

On top of that, the 2017 recruiting class is the biggest of class of Earleywine’s tenure at Mizzou. It is ranked No. 9 in the nation and features seven of FloSoftball’s Top 200 players. This class is highlighted by Kendyll Bailey, the No. 11 player in the class of 2017.

Mizzou lost its top three batting average hitters, Sami Fagan, Emily Crane and Taylor Gadbois, along with two pitchers. Now the bulk of the offensive pressure falls on junior Amanda Sanchez, fourth in batting average in 2016, and senior Chloe Rathburn, second in home runs in 2016. In the bullpen, Mizzou lost ace Paige Lowary, who transferred to the University of Oklahoma. Last year she went 25-8 with a 3.25 ERA. Now sophomore Danielle Baumgartner takes over. Baumgartner led the team with a 1.98 ERA last year.

Mizzou begins this season in the Charleston Southern Tournament against No. 14 James Madison on Feb. 10. Mizzou’s first home game is March 3 against No. 9 Oregon.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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