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story.lead_photo.caption Colin O'Brien

The Missouri softball team is peaking at the right time.

Under coach Larissa Anderson, the Tigers (35-12, 13-7) are currently fourth in the Southeastern Conference standings and have their sights set on hosting an NCAA regional for the first time since 2016. A Women's College World Series berth doesn't seem so far off for a team that was hovering around .500 before Anderson's hire and missed the conference tournament hosted in its home stadium in 2018.

The team is 3-2 in its last five conference games, all of which have come against top-10 opponents. Missouri won a series at No. 6 Arkansas last weekend, including a 10-1 win against the Razorbacks to clinch the series.

"They continually go out and they're beating ranked opponents," Anderson said after that win last Sunday. "Taking two out of the three right now from Arkansas and game one against LSU, and I can read the list on and on and on. I mean, they deserve to be in those conversations to be considered one of the top teams in the country."

Missouri had won the opener of every SEC series this season before Friday night, when the Florida Gators, the No. 3 team in the nation, won 5-2. The Tigers' answer: run-ruling Florida 10-2 in five innings Saturday, the first time since 2019 the Gators had been run-ruled in SEC play.

Saturday's game — which saw a two-run homer from Emma Raabe, two-run singles from Brooke Wilmes and Kendyll Bailey and a two-run blast to end the game from Hatti Moore — was the first time all season Florida allowed more than seven runs in a game, and the first time an SEC opponent had scored more than four runs.

The Tigers can win their second-ever series against the Gators with a win in today's 11 a.m. finale.

Anderson's squad is a fun one. Missouri has hit 71 home runs this year, sixth in the NCAA and second in the SEC. In SEC play, the Tigers lead the league in batting average (.309), doubles (32), runs per game (6.2), slugging percentage (.510) and a bunch of other hitting stats.

The Tigers are also second in the SEC in fielding percentage, at .980, and left fielder Casidy Chaumont has made a name for herself by making diving, layout grabs.

Missouri is all but guaranteed to host an NCAA regional this year. The Tigers were No. 16 in RPI before the Florida series began (the Gators are No. 3 in RPI).

Because of the pandemic, the NCAA is awarding regional host sites differently this year. Mizzou Softball Stadium was announced Friday by the NCAA as one of 20 predetermined preliminary regional host sites. The 16 host sites will be announced May 16, with eight hosting Super Regionals as well.

"We need to be in every single conversation, and a lot of times we're left out," Anderson said last Sunday. "Now I'm expecting that a lot of people around the country are going to be talking about Mizzou softball. You can't count us out and we've always believed that and we've known that within our program, but now the rest of the country needs to pay attention and give these girls respect that they deserve, because they've earned it."

Missouri has won just two SEC titles — both by the volleyball program — since joining the SEC, and the Tigers have never won a postseason SEC tournament. Anderson has Missouri poised to compete for both this year, and for years to come.

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