SEC Softball Tournament championship preview: Does upset-minded Mizzou have a chance vs. top-seed Arkansas?
The stage is set. The 2022 SEC Softball Tournament is down to its final two teams. Missouri will take on Arkansas for the title in a championship game scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday. The game will be televised by ESPN2.
One or the other will capture its first SEC Tournament championship, both are making just a second tournament finals appearance. Regular-season champion Arkansas lost to LSU in the 1999 tournament championship. The No. 7 seed Tigers lost to Florida in the 2013 championship game.
The teams did not face each other during the regular season.
Here are the strengths and weaknesses for each team.
Suddenly, it’s pitching. The Tigers compiled decent stats coming into the tournament. They ranked 5th (tied with Tennessee) in the SEC with an overall team ERA of 2.91. In SEC games, the Tigers’ staff turned in a 3.82 ERA over 23 games. Not great, but not bad, either. Certainly nothing that would indicate what was to come in tournament play.
Over those 3 games, the Tigers shut out Auburn (1-0), defending tourney champs Alabama (3-0), and Tennessee (3-0) in succession leading into the final on Saturday. All were complete-game performances and all were accomplished in dominant fashion.
Jordan Weber (15-8) blanked Auburn on 4 hits while striking out 8 in Missouri’s tournament opener. Then Laurin Krings baffled Bama batters, striking out 3 while scattering 5 hits. Weber returned to the circle for her 2nd complete-game shutout of the tournament, whitewashing Tennessee with the help of some slick fielding behind her.
So, the question becomes: Can Krings take the circle and continue the mastery over all opposition to complete the mission on Saturday?
If there’s a weakness, it would be scoring runs, although the Tigers haven’t had to score many because their pitchers have posted goose eggs. But you can’t count on shutting out everyone. Or can you?
They had just 4 hits against Tennessee. Granted, 3 of those were home runs (Kimberly Wert, Kara Daly, Hatti Moore). But more production will most likely become necessary on Saturday when they face the league’s best-hitting team.
The Tigers have managed just 12 hits in 3 tournament games, and leadoff batter Jenna Laird has 4 of those. The rest of the Tigers team is hitting .140 (8-for-57). I dare say that won’t cut it on Saturday. Missouri must produce at a much better clip to help ease the pressure off of Laird and the Tigers’ pitching staff.
Hitting and scoring runs. If you have any chance at beating Arkansas, you have to score runs. The Razorbacks score them, often in bunches. They hit a league-high .318 in conference play this season and scored 158 runs, easily the most in the SEC this year. That’s an average of 6.6 runs per game in conference play. Overall, the Razorbacks ranked 4th in the country, scoring 7.45 runs per game.
Three players hit over-.400 for the season. Led by Danielle Gibson (.438), the Razorbacks hit and hit with power. Linnie Malkin clubbed a team-best 20 homers. Gibson hit 18, and Hannah Gammill, who batted .396 overall, also delivered 18 home runs.
And that’s not even counting KB Sides, recently named the SEC Player of the Year, who hit .401 with 12 HRs.
Though the Razorbacks scored below their average in 2 tournament games, a 3-0 win over Ole Miss, and 4-1 triumph over Florida, they still find a way to push runs across the plate.
It should be interesting to see what they can do against a suddenly unflappable Missouri pitching staff.
While Arkansas’ pitching is a huge plus, especially since conference play began, posting a league-low 2.90 ERA and led by Chenise Delce (16-2), named the SEC Pitcher of the Year, it’s the bats that have overshadowed an outstanding pitching staff.
Inexperience. There really isn’t any physical weakness to this team. They pitch, they hit, they run, they field. Just as they did during the regular season, Arkansas has dominated the opposition.
But they will be treading on new ground Saturday, at least in this century. The Razorbacks haven’t played for a conference tournament championship in 22 years. Maybe they’re just too talented to let inexperience become a factor. We’ll find out on Saturday.