COLUMBIA — As far as outfielder Ashley Fleming is concerned, the Missouri softball team's path to the Women's College World Series couldn't have lined up any better.
Despite being passed over by the selection committee to host a super regional, Fleming is satisfied that the No. 9-seeded Tigers will host a regional tournament and will most likely have to go through College Station, Texas, in order to get to Oklahoma City.
Two of Missouri's softball players earned prestigious Big 12 Conference awards on Tuesday.
Junior ace, Chelsea Thomas was named the conference’s Pitcher of the Year for a second consecutive season. She is only the second player to win the award more than once. She led the Big 12 with a 1.08 earned run average in 20 conference appearances and posted an 11-6 conference record. She also led the league in strikeouts with 160.
Freshman infielder Corrin Genovese was named the conference's Defensive Player of the Year. This is the second straight season a Missouri player has earned the honor with Megan Christopher winning co-Defensive Player of the Year last season. Genovese has played stellar defense all over the diamond this season. She has spent time at second and third base before becoming the team’s shortstop later in the season. She made just two errors in 90 chances during conference play for a .978 fielding percentage.
Thomas and five other Tigers earned All-Big 12 honors. Joining Thomas on the first team were Ashley Fleming and Mackenzie Sykes, while Nicole Hudson, Jenna Marston and Kelsea Roth were on the second team.
The awards and all-conference selections are voted on by all nine Big 12 softball coaches.
Since Ehren Earleywine took over as head coach of the Tigers in 2007, Missouri has had 33 All-Big 12 selections.
"I don't think there is anybody we want to play more than Texas A&M," Fleming said. "You know, going 1-2 against them ... It all works out a little bit too perfect. The fact that going 1-2 against them was a very big reason why we didn't win the conference, and then obviously (both teams) going to the SEC ... We're definitely looking forward to being able to play them."
If both the Tigers and Aggies reach the super regional finals, it will most likely be a intensely-played, close game. Not only do the Tigers want to avenge their losses earlier in the season and right the supposed wrong by the selection committee, but all three of the Tigers' games with A&M in College Station were one-run affairs. The Tigers lost the first game 2-1 and third game 1-0. They won the second game 6-5.
Another member of the Tigers was a little more vocal about her displeasure with the selection's committees' choices, namely freshman and newly crowned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Corrin Genovese.
"That's B.S. that A&M and Texas are ahead of us," said Genovese, obviously upset that though Missouri finished ahead of both teams in the Big 12 Conference standings, Texas was awarded the No. 6 seed and Texas A&M received the No. 8 seed.
Both teams were ranked higher in the RPI rankings, however. Texas was at No. 5 and Texas A&M at No. 9, while Missouri was No. 14.
"A&M and Texas got very lucky getting seeded above us," she said. "I mean that might have something to do with (Missouri) coach E(Ehren Earleywine). I don't know what he says to other media guys, but they don't like us for some reason."
Earleywine has mentioned on several occasions his dislike of Texas A&M and the selection committee but would only say that "you scratch your head at some of the seedings ... I don't think there is anyone you could ask that would say 'yeah, those seedings are dead on.'"
"And I think A&M does not want to see us in their super regional if we make it there," Genovese continued. "I'm happy with our seeding. I know some people are, and some people aren't, but I'm very pumped to go to A&M and whip their butt."
If it works out that way. But Genovese, who has already put her predictions for the NCAA tournament on paper, doesn't think that will happen, and she went on to make a few bold predictions.
"I actually have LSU beating A&M," Genovese said confidently. "I don't think A&M is going to make it out of their regional. No. I think we're going to be hosting LSU (Missouri would be top-rated team remaining and would host the super regional). We're going to host LSU, and we're going to beat (top-seeded) Cal in the first round of the World Series."
That being said, no Missouri player or coach said they were overlooking the challenges ahead in their regional this weekend. Last season, the Tigers began the regional tournament with a loss to DePaul, and had to come out of the loser's bracket in order to advance.
So when Earleywine was asked if he would like to make some predictions to accompany his star infielder's, he declined, instead saying that all he is doing is focusing on beating Illinois State.
"Every team when you get here (to regionals) has a chance to win," Fleming concluded. "There are always upsets. We have to make sure we don't look past anybody."
Illinois State is the first team Missouri will play in its regional. That game will be at 6:30 p.m. Friday at University Field in Columbia.