By Sam Hustis and Sam Richmond
The Missouri softball team will enter the 2014 season ranked No. 14 according to the USA Today/NFCA Division I preseason rankings, and No. 17 according to the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 preseason poll.
This is the seventh consecutive time in coach Ehren Earleywine’s eight-year Missouri career his team has started the season ranked in the top 25.
The Tigers ended the season last year ranked No. 11 by both polls after going 38-14 overall and 15-8 in conference. The 2013 team reached its sixth consecutive NCAA Super Regional, losing the best-of-three game series to Washington, 2 game to none. Washington is in the top 10 of both polls.
Missouri will be without its two starting pitchers from last year’s team, Chelsea Thomas and Nicole Hudson, due to graduation. Hudson finished with an 11-6 record last year while Thomas went 24-6. She was the winningest pitcher in school history with a 111-31 record.
The Tigers will head into 2014 with two freshmen as its top two pitchers: Tori Finucane and Casey Stangel. Stangel comes from Lake City High School in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where she posted a 28-0 record with a 0.73 ERA in her final season. Finucane went 26-1 with a 0.21 ERA in her senior year at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va.
“They both had a good fall,” Earleywine said in an interview for mutigers.com. “Tori is a right-handed pitcher that throws close to 70 miles an hour. And Casey is almost the opposite. She’s a left-handed pitcher that throws in the low 60s and relies a little bit more on spin and location and changing speeds.”
Missouri is returning eight position starters including Kelsea Roth (1B), who batted .304 with 16 home runs and 43 RBI in 2013, and Emily Crane (2B/OF), who led the team with a .376 average.
Missouri is one of eight Southeastern Conference programs to make the polls, including Tennessee, which earned the No. 1 spot in both polls, Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M, Kentucky, LSU and Georgia. No other conference has as many preseason ranked teams.
The Tigers are scheduled to start the season on Saturday, Feb. 8, at 3 p.m. with their Black & Gold Exhibition inside the Devine Pavilion. Missouri will face its first opponent when they travel to Jacksonville, Fla., to play in the Jacksonville Tournament Feb. 14-16.
|7. Arizona State
||7. Arizona State
|11. Texas A&M
||11. Texas A&M
||12. Florida State
|15. Florida State
|20. South Alabama
||22. South Alabama
||23. South Florida
|25. South Florida