No. 7 Mizzou softball downs Washington in ‘gutsy’ fashion to set up rematch with Omaha

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — After Missouri softball was upset by Omaha at home in the first of the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers got to talking.

There were quite a few things said, some by coaches, some by players. But three themes emerged from conversations in the locker room and in a text group chat of players.

“We knew that that shouldn’t have happened. We knew that we’re better than that,” shortstop Jenna Laird said.

“We don’t want to be done yet,” first baseman Abby Hay said.

Those convictions guided No. 7 Mizzou through its most pivotal day of the season on Saturday, past elimination games against Indiana and Washington. The double-elimination nature of the NCAA Tournament’s Regional round gave the Tigers a chance to recover, albeit with their backs against the wall.

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They took it. A long, sweaty afternoon of high-pressure softball featured an all-around “gutsy” performance, as MU coach Larissa Anderson put it afterward. While Missouri’s stars carried a heavy amount of the load, one in particular did more than her fair share of the lifting.

Pitcher Laurin Krings started both games, pitching 11 combined innings and throwing 163 pitches. She allowed just 10 hits and two runs from the circle.

After she pitched 6.1 innings in a win over Indiana, her starting the next game just 45 or so minutes afterward seemed like a surprise.

But Krings wouldn’t have it any other way. She approached Anderson in between games and asked for the chance to start.

“You said to me to go as long as I can for as hard as I can, and then when I have nothing left, you’ll come get me,” Krings told Anderson. “I still have something left, so put me back out there — and then when I have nothing left, you can come and get me.’”

The ace’s edge showing in the fourth inning of a 4-1 win against Washington. Krings had allowed a couple of runners to reach base, and even with two outs, Anderson huddled with the pitcher. With two Mizzou relievers warming up in the bullpen, it looked like Krings might be headed for the exits.

But she stayed in and struck out the next batter to end the inning, punctuating her recovery with a leap and emphatic fist pump.

The discussion before that at-bat was purely mechanical, Anderson said, and had nothing to do with discussing a pitching change. Rather, Anderson was worried about a slight uptick in the speed of Krings’ change-up.

“I didn’t want to wait until she got the third out because we might not get the third out if I don’t have that conversation,” Anderson said.

That urgency underscored Missouri’s performance across both games, but particularly in the nightcap against the Huskies.

Hay opened the scoring with a solo home run to dead center in the second inning, which Laird followed up with a solo shot to right field in the third. Both were leadoff homers.

And Laird’s was notable. She’s not a power hitter — it had been 750 days since her last home run — and doesn’t often expect to be sending pitches back over the outfield fence. But the opportunity presented itself.

“I knew it was gone,” she said. “It was whether it was staying on the right side of the foul pole.”

Laird scored again in the fifth, joining center fielder Alex Honnold in trips all the way around the diamond as the Tigers stacked hits for some insurance runs.

Though the seventh inning presented a save opportunity, Anderson opted not to deploy closer Taylor Pannell, who’s one save away from tying the NCAA single-season record for that metric. Door-closing duty instead went to freshman reliever Marissa McCann, who picked up the save across 2.1 innings of work — seven outs that took her just 12 pitches in some remarkably efficient work.

Even with more runs pouring in on Saturday than seemed possible in Friday’s defeat, Mizzou’s offense wasn’t seamless. Nervy moments continued to pop up on the basepaths, from runners finding themselves an uncomfortable distance past the bag when turning the corner or weighing whether to tag up. Some overzealous attempts at taking a bag led to tagged runners, too.

Any runs left on the table as a result went unpunished, a welcome change for the Tigers from the defeat to Omaha. Still, it’s an area where some internal examination may well take place.

“The baserunning’s on me,” Anderson said. “When I’m seeing that we’re not manufacturing a lot of quality at-bats in a row, I felt like I was overly aggressive in some situations, trying to make things happen rather than letting the game — it’s kind of like the things I tell the players: Let the game come to you.”

Missouri will play Omaha again on Sunday with a chance to advance to the Super Regional round of the NCAA Tournament at stake. The Mavericks upset the Tigers on Friday to embark on a budding Cinderella run before beating Washington in Saturday’s first game.

The rematch will begin at 1 p.m. If Mizzou wins, the teams will play another, decisive game shortly after because of the round’s double-elimination format.

Winning that game, which would be the Tigers’ seventh of the weekend, would allow MU to host a best-of-three Super-Regional series next weekend.

It could be a matter of leveraging opportunities with the same urgency that drove the tempo of Saturday’s production.

Krings will likely be in the circle for as much of Sunday’s action as she can be — she embarked on recovery efforts with MU’s training staff almost immediately after the end of the Washington game. Her performances in the elimination doubleheader suggested urgency won’t be a problem.

At the plate, Mizzou’s hitters have found something simple to latch onto.

As Hay put it, the Tigers are “not gonna let the fat ones go” and capitalize on ripe pitches provided by likely opposing pitcher Kamryn Meyer, who allowed just one Missouri run in nine innings of work during the teams’ first matchup

“They have their approach and they have their plan,” Anderson said. “They just got to stick to it.”

A leadoff double set the tone for the Tigers, who stayed alive in the postseason.

Two home runs were all the Mavericks needed to take down the Tigers.

“I think that’s when I pitch best — when the game is on the line,” said Taylor Pannell, a sophomore softball southpaw for Mizzou.

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