The best players for Mizzou athletics this year
Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator
I walked away from Tiger sports for the summer on Sunday, the final event being a disappointing one —the MU softball team being swept by Nebraska. But all in all it was an exciting year for Tigers fans, from the rejuvenation of the Mizzou football program and undefeated regular season for Tiger volleyball, to a return to some great individual performances. While the Tigers golf team still has the NCAA championship ahead and several track athletes have also qualified for NCAAs, it’s time to take a look back at my thoughts for the best players and moments (and some not so great moments) for the major sports at MU and some unsung heroes from the sports that don’t get as much attention.
And, look on the bright side…football camp is just over two months away!
Missouri baseball coach Tim Jamieson, bundled up for a cold March game, could be on the hot seat now.
Perhaps the most troubled program on campus, question marks surround Tiger baseball as another disappointing season lurches to a finish. Tim Jamieson may have a great career mark, 20 years as head coach, and six more as an assistant to legendary Gene McArtor, but to say he’s on the hot seat would be an understatement. After going 18-32 last year, this year’s team finished 20-33 including losses in 12 of the final 13 games. If the dismissal of Jamieson hasn’t been announced by the time you read this, don’t be surprised if it is soon.
And that’s a shame, he’s had tremendous teams and has done things the right way here. Missouri’s had just three coaches since 1937 and tradition means a great deal to this program. But so does winning, and after seven straight 30-win seasons the Tigers the last four years have had three losing seasons and one (2012) that was barely above .500. SEC baseball is serious business and Missouri’s going to have to get serious about baseball.
MVP: Eric Anderson did very good things at the plate and on the mound this season. A 3.30 ERA in 43 innings is among the best on this Tigers’ very strong pitching staff, and his .270 batting average is 2nd best on a team with not enough hitting. Also noteworthy is his battery mate, catcher Dylan Kelly. His .330 was the only batting average over .300 on the team, and Kelly also led the team with 27 RBIs while handing his duties behind the plate very well. Unfortunately, Anderson and Kelly are both seniors.
Play of the Year: Anderson’s three-run homer in the eighth inning gave Mizzou an 8-7 victory at No. 15 Kentucky in April, the opener of a series Missouri would win. Yeah, the record was poor but a road win in the SEC is always impressive, especially over a top-20 team. Worth noting is also that Anderson pitched the Tigers to a victory in the finale, throwing 10 strikeouts in seven innings — the high point of a season without many moments of celebration.
Gutdrop of the Year: While blowing a big lead and losing in extras in the finale to get swept by Arkansas comes close, the big gutdrop is still to come. Chances are the long run of Jamieson will end soon, and that’s a shame. Longtime followers of the program have seen some great, great baseball under Jamieson’s leadership, and it’s just a pity to see it end this way. But someone once said there are only two kind of coaches, those who’ve been fired and those who are going to be.
Like wrestling, the buzz around Mizzou softball was “they’ll be good this year, but wait till next year.” As the Tigers fell in disappointing faction after getting to the winner’s bracket in their regional, they lose just two seniors: left fielder Mackenzie Sykes, a true leader that this team will miss greatly, and Alora Marble, a SEMO transfer who contributed more than expected from the No. 3 spot in the pitching order this season. But with two outstanding young pitchers in Tori Finucane and Casey Stangel and another on the way in next year’s recruiting class in Paige Lowary, the Tigers should be set in the circle. And, they return all the field starters except Sykes, bring in some strong bats in the 2014 recruiting class, and will get Kayla Kingsley back from her unfortunate string of injuries. The club has a very bright future.
MVP: One of the top pitchers in the nation is true freshman on this team whose importance cannot be understated. But my MVP isn’t Finucane. Corrin Genovese was a first-team All SEC performer whose hitting skills and slick play at shortstop were already impressive before she went all Ty Cobb in the regional. SEC Freshman of the Year Finucane is a close second.
Play of the Year: Following a Sykes double, Kirsten Mack hit a ball that narrowly missed being a home run but went just foul in the first inning of the Tigers regional game against Kansas last weekend. On the next pitch, she put it just a few feet to the right for a two-run homer that set the Tigers on their way to a 6-3 win over their former conference rivals and put Mizzou into the championship finals of the Columbia regional.
Gutdrop of the Year: Losing Finucane for the regional to a thumb injury obviously hurt the Tigers’ postseason strength, and after losing the first game on the final day to Nebraska, Mizzou put runners on with a walk and an error with two outs. Kiki Stokes hit a 3-run homer that put the Huskers up 5-0, and took all the wind out of Mizzou’s sails in their final game of the year. NU’s Hailey Decker hit four homers on Sunday, but it was the unearned runs off Stokes’ blast that, in the words of Huskers’ coach Rhonda Revelle “broke (Missouri’s) backs.” Another loss Ehren Earleywine shared after the game that longtime volunteer assistant coach Phil Bradley is leaving the program. A Tiger legend in football and baseball, and longtime Major League Baseball player, several players have told me Bradley’s been a real unsung hero in these recent years of great success for the Tigers. He’ll be sorely missed at University Field.
Ouch. A program Tigers fans take a lot of pride in didn’t just lose more than people expected, they frequently were frustratingly placid while doing so. Even games they won tended to be poorly played tough-to-watch games that Mizzou perhaps failed to lose as much as winning.
Maybe standards have become too high, for people to be this disappointed with a 23-12 record and happy about a guy leaving who was AP National Coach of the Year two seasons ago. But high standards lead to excellence, and that’s what’s expected and demanded of MU fans in this sport. And we saw very little excellence from this team in ‘13-‘14.
MVP: Obviously what excellence we did see frequently came from Jabari Brown. Averaged nearly 20 points a game, and rose to the occasion frequently in big games. He led the Tigers with 26 in the win over Texas A&M in the SEC tourney, and 30 in the NIT victory over Davidson.
Play of the Year: Ernest Ross going nuts in the second half against UCLA. The Bruins led by eight when a dunk by Ross, a dunk by Brown, then two straight threes from Ross gave Mizzou the lead, brought the crowd into the game, and helped the Tigers defend their long-standing home court domination of non-conference teams.
Gutdrop of the Year: With the emotional factors (coach Mark Fox’s father died just days earlier) and the fact that by the end of the season we’d learned Georgia was a lot better than we thought in mind, losing at home in OT to the Bulldogs in the SEC opener was the point at which Tigers fans started to go “uh, oh.” UGA put a major run together to blow out the Tigers late, and coming as it did off the loss to Illinois, this is when it all started to go so very wrong.
It’s a hard thing to explain progress in a program that’s struggled like this one has over the years. But while the record is nearly identical, the 2013-2014 version of the Tigers were improved, and the progress continues to be seen by those who watch closely. After being destroyed, frequently, in their first season in the SEC the Tigers stayed within 20 of even the best of the league. And with most of the team returning, and a strong recruiting class on the way, progress should continue.
MVP: The Tigers lost two seniors, but while injuries kept Tania Jackson off the court most of the season, there’ll be no replacing Bri Kulas. An All-SEC performer, she provided quiet leadership and (usually) consistent outstanding play in just about every aspect of the game. Had a small slump late in the season but remained the guts and glue of coach Robin Pingeton’s team. Drafted (and recently released) by San Antonio of the WNBA. Honorary mention to the tremendously improved game of Morgan Eye, who went from being the 3-point master to a very complete player.
Play of the Year: Morgan Eye breaking the career 3-point record of Alyssa Hollins with some key bombs in the Tigers upset of No. 25 Georgia at Mizzou Arena in January. There were times that teams knew Eye was going to shoot the long ball, defended it, and still couldn’t stop her and this was one of the best.
Gutdrop of the Year: Ugh. I’ve argued for years and years to see Missouri and Missouri State play in women’s hoops. The Bears have a great tradition in the sport, but the Tigers were a much better team this season. Unfortunately, they didn’t show it in John Q. Hammons early in the season when the things that would be bugaboos for MU all year—turnovers and foul trouble—killed the Tigers chances and gave MSU a 67-53 win. Embarrassing night for the central part of the state, a celebration in the Ozarks.
OTHER NOTEWORTHY TIGERS
Markesh Woodson (Track and Field): The sophomore sprinter had a long list of accomplishments, including finishing second at the SEC indoor championships. The 10.48 100m he ran at Lexington last weekend to finish 10th was .07 off NCAA qualifying; and it was short of the 10.11 qualifying run and 10.18 finals he ran last year while finishing third in the SEC outdoor championships on the way to an All-American season.
Cierra Gayton-Leach (Tennis): Beat four ranked opponents and named second team All-SEC. A transfer from Texas, Gayton-Leach is the first all-conference tennis player in nine years at Mizzou.
Emilio Cuartero and Mizzou Men’s Golf: Cuartero finished with the individual championship and the Tigers finished a very strong third in the NCAA regional they hosted last weekend, as the team qualified for the NCAA Championships in Hutchinson, Kan. Cuartero, a senior, shot a seven-under 65 on the final day to win the event at Old Hawthorne, which included the nation’s No. 2 ranked team, Oklahoma State and several other strong teams.
Kearsten Peoples and Jill Rushin (Track and Field): Rushin had a great weekend at the SEC Championships in Lexington, winning the shot put and finishing third in the discus. Rushin and Peoples finished 1-2 earlier in the shot put, an event in which Peoples is a two-time All-American. Peoples also finished sixth in the hammer throw at Lexington. Peoples is currently ranked No. 10 in the world in the shot.
Darren Hellwege is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America