SEC Softball Tournament: Semifinals are set. Here's what each must do to advance
Let me introduce to you Missouri sophomore right-handed pitcher Laurin Krings. And while I’m at it, say hello to Tennessee senior right-hander Ashley Rogers. Both threw complete-game shutouts for their respective teams on Thursday leading the two squads on a collision course toward a 3 p.m. Friday showdown in the semifinals of the SEC Softball Tournament in Gainesville.
Krings (14-8) outdueled Alabama’s Montana Fouts (22-6), striking out 3 in a 5-hit, 3-0 shutout of the Tide, sending the defending tournament champions packing for Tuscaloosa where they’ll begin preparation for the upcoming regional tournament on the road to the Women’s College World Series.
“I wasn’t going to let any batter beat me,” said Krings, who did not walk a batter and faced just 4 batters over the minimum in her 84-pitch outing.
It was the first time since 1999 that Alabama lost in the first game of an SEC Tournament. Sloppy fielding was Alabama’s demise and Fouts was among the culprits, committing 1 of 2 costly errors in Missouri’s big 3-run 6th inning that decided the game. Only one of those runs was earned off Fouts, who struck out 5 and walked just 1 while also allowing 5 hits.
Alabama has only been shut out 3 times in the SEC Tournament. The last time was 2004.
Not to be outdone, Rogers fired a 13-inning complete game in the Vols’ 1-0 win over Mississippi State in the first quarterfinals game on Thursday. Over 13 innings, the longest game in Tennessee softball history, Rogers yielded just 3 hits while fanning 7. She walked only 2 batters. Like Krings after her, Rogers faced just 4 batters over the minimum.
In a league that just set its all-time home run record, pitchers are getting their revenge when it counts.
Here are the 2 semifinals matchups for Friday and what each team has to do to make it to the finals on Saturday.
No. 7 seed Missouri vs. No. 3 seed Tennessee, 3 p.m. ESPN2
Missouri will win if: After opening SEC play with a 5-9 start, the Tigers are rolling. They got their revenge on Alabama, their only loss over the past 12 games. The Tigers can win on Friday if they just keep doing what they’ve been doing, and that is stay aggressive at the plate and not be intimidated by anyone – not even Fouts. The Wildcats hit .334 during the regular season, 2nd in the SEC only to Arkansas (.343).
Right now, Missouri is doing everything right. Aggressive at the plate coupled with solid pitching. In 2 SEC Tournament games, the Tigers have gotten back-to-back shutouts from 2 different pitchers. Jordan Weber blanked Auburn 1-0 with a 4-hit complete game, striking out 8.
“Our teams are designed to peak at the end of the year and you could feel that this was happening and transpiring,” Missouri head coach Larissa Anderson said after the game. “When the pitchers have such great command and control, you’re going to see less runs on the board, because they have such great control, they’re keeping them off balance and they’re working both sides of the plate.”
Tennessee will win if: In a word: consistency. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to get from this team. They run-rule Ole Miss one day, and lose the rubber game of the series the next. Same thing at Georgia, beating the Dogs 11-5 one day only to drop the rubber match of the series the next day, getting run-ruled themselves.
Against Missouri this year, the Vols swept a pair of games in Columbia, run-ruling the Tigers 14-3 before holding off their hosts, 5-4. But that was way back in mid-March. The Tigers are a more well-rounded team since then. Tennessee must prove on Friday that it also has become that team as well.
No. 5 seed Florida vs. No. 1 seed Arkansas, 5:30 p.m. ESPN2
Florida will win if: It’s pretty simple: The Gators win if they can continue to win with “small ball.” The Gators hit .309 this year. They got on base with consistency. But that big hit just hasn’t been there all season. While the conference was piling up the homers, smashing the league record, Florida wasn’t a big contributor. The Gators hit only 32 home runs. It was by far the fewest hit in the SEC. The Gators compiled a .441 slugging percentage. Only South Carolina (.413) had a lower one.
So, for Florida to win Friday and advance to the tournament final on Saturday, it will have to be through consistent contact up and down the lineup and then some aggressive baserunning. Skylar Wallace and Kendra Falby are key there. They finished 1-2 in the conference in stolen bases. Wallace ended the regular season with 47 swipes on 51 attempts. Falby was successful on 34-of-37 steal attempts. It’s no surprise that Wallace led the SEC with 65 runs scored.
Playing on their home field certainly doesn’t hurt either, although only Alabama (twice) has won the SEC Tournament on its home turf.
Arkansas will win if: For the top seed and regular-season champions to win their first SEC Tournament title, the Hogs must continue to mash. They led the SEC in team batting average (.342), slugging percentage (.632) and on-base percentage (.438). In just 12 games of a 50-game schedule, the opposition was able to hold Arkansas under 5 runs scored.
Yeah, they can hit. Danielle Gibson leads the way. The senior transfer from Arizona State hit .446 for the season. Nobody did it better in the SEC. She also led the league with 62 RBIs and 136 total bases. Her 18 homers ranked 3rd.
Both Linnie Malkin and KB Sides hit above the .400 mark, and Hannah Gammill batted .397 for the season.
Yeah, they can hit.