COLUMBIA — Ehren Earleywine had a feeling star pitcher Chelsea Thomas could have a big game Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Earleywine, Missouris softball coach, knows that Thomas does not forget her losses, as infrequent as they may be. After she allowed six runs in back-to-back losses to Arkansas in April, he also knew shed be eager to get revenge against the Razorbacks.
Turns out Earleywine could not have been more correct, as Thomas pitched No. 7 Missouri to an 8-0 run-rule win over No. 22 Arkansas at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Ky. Thomas pitched a complete game, allowing only two hits with one walk while striking out five in the five-inning game.
Shes all about revenge, Earleywine said. She doesnt forget those losses and that probably was one of her most difficult weekends of the year, so I knew shed be a handful today.
Chances are, shell be a handful Friday, too. After saying earlier in the week that he plans to carefully monitor Thomas workload in preparation for postseason play, Earleywine said the Tigers chances of earning a top seed for the NCAA Tournament and thus, hosting a Regional next week and Super Regional the week after will go up significantly if they beat the winner of No. 2 Tennessee or No. 10 South Carolina in Fridays semifinal round.
That means if she feels good when she wakes up tomorrow, we probably will throw her, Earleywine said. She only had 67 pitches today with no pain, no fatigue, so unless something changes, thats the plan.
But while Thomas, who improved to 21-4, was again the star, she had plenty of help Thursday. Junior outfielder Mackenzie Sykes went 3-for-3 with a single, double and triple and three RBI, while sophomore first baseman Kelsea Roth also had 3 RBI, including a two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Freshman second baseman Emily Crane and senior catcher Jenna Marston also drove in a run apiece for Missouri, which improved to 34-10 heading into Fridays semifinal round, which starts at 2:30 p.m.
If they can keep hitting like this we are going to be tough to beat down the road, Thomas said. The sky is the limit if we can keep hitting it and playing like this.