As tantalizing as it is to think about a renewal of the Border War during NCAA regional softball play, the reality is that it would take an upset for a showdown between Missouri and Kansas to materialize.
Nebraska, 40-15, presents a formidable hurdle for the Jayhawks during the regional opener at 12:30 p.m. today at University Field in Columbia.
Kansas, 33-21, finished fifth out of seven teams in the Big 12 softball standings, while Nebraska tied Michigan for first place in the Big Ten.
Meanwhile, Missouri, 41-16, kicks off its regional run against Bradley, 27-30, and is the prohibitive favorite as the regional host.
Despite the fact that Missouri and Kansas share a field this weekend, the bitter rivals might have to wait at least one more year to clash again athletically — barring a first-round upset of Nebraska, a second-round upset by Nebraska or some sort of Herculean performance by Bradley.
“It would be good,” Missouri junior shortstop Corrin Genovese said of the chance to play KU. “I think the whole rivalry thing shouldn’t be dead, but for some reason it is. It’s not in our hands. It’s out of our control, so whatever happens happens with that. I’m just worried about the regional this weekend.”
Genovese stoked the embers of the Border War rivalry when the NCAA softball bracket was announced Sunday, declaring that the Jayhawks had been scared to play the Tigers.
By Thursday, Genovese and the rest of the Tigers struck a softer tone, talking about reaching a seventh straight Super Regional more than renewing a rivalry that went dormant when Missouri left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference two years ago.
“We play Bradley first (on Friday), so we’re really focusing first on Bradley — getting a scouting report on them, understanding we have to beat our first opponent to get to the next opponent,” Genovese said. “… We’re really only focused on Bradley, and I’m sure (KU is) pretty much only focused on Nebraska. Whatever happens (Friday) happens, and we’ll see them on Saturday or we won’t.”
Besides, the Tigers have concerns of their own. Entering postseason play, Missouri is riding the program’s first three-game losing skid since 2009.
Missouri has been shut out in back-to-back games, including a sloppy 6-0 loss against LSU in the Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals, and has managed only one run and 13 hits — with a .171 collective average and one extra-base hit — during the slide.
When asked how to jump-start the sluggish offense, sophomore outfielder Taylor Gadbois said the key was intensity, “getting up and staying up, too. We have a tendency to lose enthusiasm. I just hope we can stay up and keep our intensity.”
Obviously, intensity wouldn’t be lacking in a matchup with Kansas, but Missouri knows that it needs to find that same fire for Bradley.
The Tigers nipped the Missouri Valley Conference champion Braves 1-0 during the Citrus Classic on Feb. 28 in Kissimmee, Fla.
“We’ve come a long way since then,” Genovese said. “I’m sure they have too, but, for us, we have to make sure that we get our offense going. We know we have the defense and pitchers to back us up. … They were a very fundamentally sound team. They’re no slouch at all. Our whole regional is very tough.”
Missouri plans to start ace Tori Finucane, the SEC’s freshman of the year and a first-team all-conference performer after going 21-6 with a 1.73 ERA.
Besides, win the regional — with or without a victory against Kansas — and the Tigers would probably head to Tuscaloosa, Ala., hoping to perform a Women’s College World Series-clinching dogpile on the Crimson Tide’s turf.
Something similar to the dogpile Alabama enjoyed two weeks ago at University Field in Columbia after clinching the SEC regular-season title outright.
“I don’t think our girls are thinking about Kansas,” Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. “I’m more worried that they’re thinking about Alabama, to be real honest.”
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