After Tigers’ ace Laurin Krings powered through 11 innings against Cal and No. 1 Oklahoma in Missouri’s first two games of the Norman Regional, throwing 155 pitches in two days, head coach Larissa Anderson gave the ball to Jordan Weber in the elimination matchup against Cal on Saturday night.
Just like the entire rest of the season, Missouri came up short due to a lack of rotation or bullpen depth, falling to Cal 7-5 and ending their 2023 season. The obvious criticisms of the team — the lack of success in conference play, regression in the pitching staff, underwhelming offensive numbers — all will be considered in the future of Anderson with the Tigers and where they go from here.
Anderson, who has been with the Tigers since the 2019 season, has had a successful coaching career so far and maintained a regional appearance in every year since she’s arrived, a streak that started back to 2006.
Following a season expected to be one of growth, the Tigers saw regression in some areas and proved to be a much more vulnerable roster than was hoped at the start of the season. Still, young talents stepped up to provide bursts of energy or production that contributed to the team’s desperate push into a regional appearance.
On Saturday evening, Weber had a typical outing for the 2023 season: mixed with walks and hits while struggling to strand runners. The senior right-hander pitched three innings while allowing four earned runs on four hits and three walks, giving the Bears an early lead they wouldn’t surrender.
Weber’s underwhelming 2023 was a crucial component to the Tigers’ subpar showing in the win column, as she regressed from her previous two years of being a bulwark of Anderson’s starting rotation. Her ERA climbed from 2.51 last season to 4.10 this season; while she sported a 15-8 record in 28 starts last season, she fell to 8-10 in 24 starts this season.
Megan Schumacher and Emma Nichols, previously huge parts of Missouri’s bullpen corps, were almost nonexistent factors this season — the two went from a combined 90 innings last season to 41 ⅔ innings this season. Part of this relegation was due to the breakout of Cierra Harrison as one of the Tigers’ most reliable arms as both a starter and a reliever, one of many surprises this season.
In her first season in a Tigers’ uniform, Harrison logged an enormous 67 ⅔ innings at a team-best 2.48 ERA and 72 strikeouts. Although she mostly appeared in non-conference games as a starter, she was often the best option Anderson had in the bullpen and displayed some dazzling promise as a future option in a starting role.
On the offensive side, the Tigers’ did show improvement from the previous year, due mainly to the tandem of Alex Honnold and Jenna Laird at the top of the lineup setting up Kara Daly, Julia Crenshaw and the rest of the Tigers. The strength of the top of the lineup was a huge boon for the Tigers, but the weaker hitting out of the bottom of the order did lead to a very hit or miss offense at times. The top four combined to drive in 169 of the team’s 310 runs, and no other player on the team drove in more than 22.
For next season, the development of Katie Chester, Riley Frizell and other position players into real threats in the order will be crucial to making a deeper and more effective offense. The Tigers had just five hitters bat over .250, and held a team batting average of .265 thanks mainly to all-SEC seasons from Honnold and Laird.
Missouri enters the 2024 season with the majority of its starting lineup intact — seeing what new faces could bolster the depth of the roster or break into a starting role will only come with time.