Ranked as the 11th team in the nation, the Missouri Tiger softball team found themselves sitting just behind the top-tier teams in the nation through their first 33 games of the season. But with a weekend trip to Austin to face the third ranked Longhorns of Texas, the Tigers would have a chance to prove that they belong with the country’s elite.
In the series opener last night, the Tigers sent Chelsea Thomas, who has been one the best pitchers in all of Division I, to the mound. Coming into the game, Thomas had compiled a 14-3 record along with a miniscule 0.58 ERA, the second lowest in the nation. In addition, she had struck out 134 batters in just 96 innings of work with only 26 walks, and her 2.70 hits per seven innings led all Division I softball pitchers. And through four innings, the 10-time Big 12 pitcher of the week proved her dominance, keeping the Texas bats at bay. The Tigers’ hitting attack was able to capitalize, scoring three runs, and took advantage of a trio of Texas errors as well.
But in the fifth inning, things fell apart for Thomas. She gave up five hits and a walk in the inning, which allowed the Longhorns to take the lead for good. In the sixth, it was the Mizzou defense that fell apart behind relief pitcher Bailey Eriwn, allowing Texas to put the game out of reach with four unearned runs off of three errors.
From this game, it was made obvious that the Tigers can play with anyone in the nation when Thomas is on her game, but as soon as the Longhorns hit a couple balls hard off of Thomas, the team as a whole failed to pick up their star pitcher and minimize the damage. Of course, this team had not been in this situation very much this year, as this was their first matchup against a team ranked inside the top 5. Luckily for Head Coach Ehren Earleywine, there are still many games to be played this season, and the Tigers’ manager got to see for one of the first times how his team handled in-game adversity. In addition, Thomas is sure to have a sour taste in her mouth from this outing, and will have a chip on her shoulder the next time she faces the Longhorns.