FAYETTEVILLE – The 21st-ranked Arkansas softball team will open the SEC Tournament with No. 7 Missouri on Thursday.
The game is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on ESPNU.
Arkansas (34-17, 12-10) is coming off of a sweep of Auburn last weekend in which the Hogs outscored the Tigers 19-7 in three games. The sweep helped propel the Hogs into their first SEC Tournament since 2010. The No. 6 seed is the highest-seeded Razorback team since 2002.
“The sweep was great,” Arkansas coach Mike Larabee said. “We are trying to host a regional this year and that definitely helped. Now we need to take care of business in the SEC Tournament. We have had a lot of players step up and I would like to see it continue.”
Leading the way for the Razorbacks against Auburn was sophomore pitcher Kimmy Beasley. The Foreman native received the win in games one and three after pitching 12 innings of shutout softball. She recorded a career-high 15 strikeouts in game one and followed with seven in game three. She was named a second-team All-SEC performer earlier this week and became the first Arkansas pitcher since Heather Schlictman in 2001 to earn All-SEC honors. Beasley will try to take down her third Top-10 team of the season on Thursday.
“Kimmy Beasley is the hottest pitcher in the SEC right now,” Larabee said. “She is dominating. All of her pitches are starting to click. She has been incredible lately.”
In the game two win over Auburn, Devon Wallace walked five times, a UA single-game record, and scored four runs. In the game one win over the Tigers, Wallace set the SEC single season-walks record, passing Alabama’s Cassie Reilly-Boccia’s total of 66.Wallace currently has an NCAA-leading 74 walks. She also leads the SEC with a .636 on-base percentage. The sophomore is on pace to break numerous Arkansas single-season records, including batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
“Devon continues to get on base for us,” Larabee said. “She has great speed and can steal a base. To get her into scoring position with zero outs is huge for us. She believes in her teammates behind her and stays selectively aggressive at the plate.”
The seventh-ranked Missouri Tigers have earned a No. 3 seed in the SEC tournament after going 33-10 in the regular season and 15-8 in conference play. Leading the way for the Tigers has been the 2013 SEC Pitcher of the Year, Chelsea Thomas. She leads the SEC with a 1.25 ERA and an opposing batting average of .156. The senior, and all-time Missouri wins leader, has tallied a 20-4 record this season. At the plate Missouri features a plethora of hitters. The Tigers have nine hitters that are batting at an over .300 pace. Nicole Hudson and Angela Randazzo have combined for 25 homeruns and 87 RBI this season.
“It is another great challenge for us,” Larabee said. “They have one of the top pitchers in the country. When they put the ball in play we have to play great defense. We are not going to get a lot of opportunities and have to come up with clutch hits.”
Earlier this season, Arkansas took two games at Missouri, both in extra innings. The second game of the series featured a 4-1 win in 11 innings. The series finale was a thrilling 11-10 win, in eight innings, for the Hogs in which the teams combined to score 12 runs in the final two innings.
“This team has a lot of heart,” Larabee said. “We have done a good job of working hard. Some teams back off right now, I think we have done a good job of pushing the envelope. We need to polish some things up. When we step on the field we expect to win. The team is believing in each other right now.”
If Arkansas were to win game one, they would advance to the semi-finals on Friday and would play at 4:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU.