After failing to qualify for the Southeastern Conference tournament that it hosted on its own campus, the Missouri softball team will continue its season next weekend.
Mizzou (28-27) made its 12th straight NCAA Tournament on Sunday despite finishing last in the 13-team SEC — Vanderbilt doesn’t field a team — and not earning a spot in the 12-team conference tournament that took place in Columbia last week.
The Tigers will play in the Norman, Okla., regional and face Tulsa (33-23) at 3:30 p.m. Friday. The game will be broadcast on the WatchESPN app. The Golden Hurricane has won three straight American Athletic Conference titles. No. 4 overall seed Oklahoma hosts the regional and will face Boston University in its first tournament game.
If Mizzou wins its first game, it would likely face off against the two-time defending national champion Oklahoma Sooners, whose roster includes former MU pitcher Paige Lowary.
Missouri went 6-17 in SEC play under interim coach Gina Fogue. She took her post after athletic director Jim Sterk ousted longtime softball coach Ehren Earleywine just before this season because of a lack of confidence in Earleywine’s ability to foster a “healthy environment” for players.
Though Mizzou failed to win 30 regular-season games for the second consecutive season, the Tigers remained in contention for a regional because they played one of the country’s toughest schedules. Their RPI at the end of the regular season was 23 — 12th best in the SEC, a sign of the conference’s overall strength. Just like a season ago, every SEC team made the field of 64. Nine of the 13 SEC teams are regional hosts.
“Obviously the team and the coach were very disappointed in how it came down and not making (the conference tournament),” Sterk told The Star earlier this week. “But I think they still have an opportunity because they played well, competed well, competed against the best, that they have an opportunity to be in the postseason.”
The Tigers’ team ERA this season, 3.57, ranks last in the SEC by more than half a run from the next closest team, Kentucky. They have allowed the league’s most hits and home runs. They also finished 11th in the SEC in walks allowed. Lauren Rice, a true freshman, has gone 11-14 this season while pitching a team-leading 138 innings and posting a 3.20 ERA.
Three MU players — sophomore outfielder Cayla Kessinger and junior infielders Rylee Pierce and Kolby Romaine — received second-team All-SEC honors this season. Junior Amanda Sanchez leads Missouri with a team-high .371 batting average and 31 RBIs. She and Kessinger have each hit a team-leading 10 home runs.
Sterk told The Star he would decide after the Tigers’ season ended whether to keep Fogue as coach.
“She did a great job being put in that situation,” the athletic director said. “Both her and the team did a great job of competing.”