By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director
The Missouri Tigers played two games in broad daylight this weekend. One started Saturday afternoon at 1, the other Sunday morning at 11. But there’s a decent chance the biggest moment of the weekend for Mizzou was Saturday night, a little before 9:00 pm.
After giving up 5 hits and 3 runs yesterday in a 6-3 Tiger win, Chelsea Thomas didn’t feel good about her performance. Knowing she’d be back in the circle for game two on Sunday, she had to find out what happened.
“She was at the Athletic Center last night about 8:45 watching video,” explained Tiger coach Ehren Earleywine. “While most students were hanging out in their dorm room, she was trying to see how to do a better job today.”
And that she did. Only one Aggie reached 2nd base, and she stole it, and Thomas scattered 4 hits while striking out 9 and walking just one as the Tigers beat the Aggies 3-0 to complete their sweep of the Big 12 rival.
“I got ahead in the count today, I had better control on the drop but also switched some things around on my riseball,” said Thomas. Several of her strikeouts were on riseballs, pitches that ended up in the batters eyes, tantalizing to swing at but, at least from Chelsea Thomas, virtually unhittable.
On the other side of the ledger, the Tigers played small ball against A&M’s ace Lindsey Sisk, scratching across single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. In the fourth, Rhea Taylor legged out one of her famous infield singles, then went to second on a throwing error by Sisk. A grounder by Jenna Marston was temporarily bobbled by the first baseman, allowing Taylor to reach third, and she scored on a ground out by Ashley Fleming. The ball never left the infield (except when thrown there) but Taylor’s blazing speed was all the Tigers needed. The fifth saw Abby Vock walk, then score after hits by Taylor and Marston, and in the 6th the Tigers had not just timely hitting but some luck, as a soft liner by pinch-hitter Princess Krebs hit 2nd base to skip past the Aggie infielders, allowing Nicole Hudson to score.
As usual, three runs was more than enough with Thomas in the circle, and she was even more effective today. Both coach Earleywine and catcher Megan Christopher said that she throws harder on Saturday, but pitches smarter on Sundays. “Chelsea’s really ‘softball smart,’” said Christopher. “Yesterday the ball didn’t spin as much, but it was 20 mph faster. Today the spin was a lot better, and her pitches were working better.”
Earleywine also noted that Thomas has been throwing more and more riseballs without pain, a concern after Thomas’ injury problems that shortened the last two seasons for Thomas.
Thomas will have the chance to visit her home state this week, as the Tigers travel for a mid-week game at Northern Iowa on Wednesday. Thomas is a native of Pleasantville, Iowa. Then, Mizzou returns home to take on the team that’s won the last two regular season Big 12 championships, Oklahoma. Missouri was in place to take the title two years ago when Patti Gasso’s Sooners swept Mizzou at home. Both games of the series, Saturday at 3:30 pm and Sunday at 3 pm, will be nationally televised. The Sooners started Sunday at 32-10 overall and 5-2 in the Big 12. With the win over A&M, Mizzou is now 31-5, 6-1 in conference.