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Mizzou softball bows out of NCAA regional, falls at home to Arizona

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NCAA Softball Tournament: Columbia Super Regional: No. 8 Mizzou Tigers vs. James Madison Dukes

Mizzou head coach Larissa Anderson. No. 8 Mizzou Tigers vs. James Madison Dukes in Game 1 of the Columbia Super Regional in the NCAA Tournament in Columbia, Mo. on Friday, May 28, 2021. Zach Bland/Mizzou Athletics

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri’s quest to reach the Women’s College World Series will have to wait another year.

The Tigers’ softball team couldn’t protect its home field from one of the sport’s elite programs in NCAA regional play on Sunday, falling to Arizona 1-0.

Needing to beat the Wildcats twice to capture the Columbia Regional, the top-seeded Tigers couldn’t make it past game one, managing just two hits and five baserunners against Arizona starter Devyn Netz.

After they salvaged a spiraling year with a strong regular-season finish, the Tigers (38-22) scored just five runs and hit .198 in four regional games, spoiling two strong starts by Jordan Weber, who took Sunday’s loss to finish the year 15-8.

“We have very, very high expectations and you always want to repeat and go further than you did before,” Tigers coach Larissa Anderson said. “But I can’t tell you how hard they worked to get to the point. We’re one of 32 teams left in the country out of 300 Division I softball programs. That’s not easy to do. And it’s really, really tough to win. We didn’t get the offensive production, but everything that they gave, their effort, their concentration, their loyalty, their hard work, you can’t replace that.”

Arizona (36-20), which just squeaked into the NCAA field, will advance to the super regionals to face Mississippi State, which ousted No. 2 overall seed Florida State on Sunday in the Tallahassee Regional.

“I thought their pitcher threw a heck of a game,” Arizona coach Caitlin Rowe said of Weber. “That’s a great Missouri team we were able to beat today.”

On Sunday, Arizona had no trouble getting on base early but struggled to break Weber and her riseball. The Wildcats had a runner in scoring position in three of the first four innings and reached third base in the fourth, but Weber got a two-out popout to extinguish the threat.

The Tigers continually struggled to make hard contact against Netz, a trend throughout the weekend. Mizzou got two on base in the fourth but a changeup fooled Kendall Bailey for an inning-ending strike three. Netz retired eight straight Tigers before a seventh-inning walk to Hatti Moore, but Netz followed with a strikeout and a game-ending groundout. After getting 10 hits in Friday’s win over Missouri State, the Tigers were just 10 of 74 (.135) in their final three regional games.

“We were pressing a little bit,” senior designated player Kim Wert said. “We’re an older lineup. We knew this could have been our last game. That was in the back of our minds. … I think we started to have better at-bats as the game went on, but by then it was too late.”

Arizona finally secured the lead in the fifth on catcher Sharlize Palacios’ solo home run to left, a towering blast off a Weber changeup. Weber allowed just three runs in two regional starts, all coming on two Arizona homers.

Under Rowe in her first season as head coach, the Wildcats made the national field for an NCAA record 35th consecutive season, but this is hardly a vintage Arizona team. The Wildcats have made 24 appearances in the Women’s College World Series with eight national championships, but this year’s team finished second-to-last in the Pac-12 and was outscored 43-2 by the league’s two best teams, Arizona State and UCLA. Still, Arizona played mistake-free softball through the regional’s first two days, beating Illinois 8-2 on Friday then blanking the Tigers 2-0 on Saturday, all behind starter Hanah Bowen.

The Tigers were attempting to reach the NCAA super regionals for the second straight season and 10th time overall since 2008.

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