COLUMBIA — In what amounted to a duel between two of the nation’s best pitchers, you could argue that, in a way, Hofstra’s Olivia Galati bested Missouri’s Chelsea Thomas in their NCAA regional game on Saturday.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Galati, after all, only allowed one hit over seven innings to Thomas’ eight, and for the better part of the game, Galati seemed to have better command of her arsenal.
But in the end, Thomas got several big outs precisely when she needed them, while the one hit Galati allowed drove in the game-winning run in Missouri’s 1-0 win at University Field.
With the win, Missouri, 37-11, advanced to today’s final day of the double-elimination tournament, where they will have two chances to beat Hofstra, which went on to win the losers’ bracket later Saturday.
“This game is all about timing … it’s not how many hits you get, it’s when you get them,” said Hofstra coach Bill Edwards, who paused briefly to contain his emotions. “It's not how many errors you make, it’s when you make them. Kudos to Missouri, they made all the key plays when they had to make them.”
Edwards added that the game of softball can be “cruel” at times, a notion Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine, whose team only drew one walk all game, didn’t disagree with.
“I don’t know if there are softball gods or not, but I do understand his feeling of frustration because they were the better team today,” said Earleywine, whose team is one win away from advancing to the Super Regional round, a best two-out-of-three series in which the winner will head to the Women’s College World Series,
But Earleywine’s team did show a knack for making a key play at exactly the right time, a trait that helped the Tigers from the get-go Saturday as Hofstra, 44-12, opened the game with a bunt hit, a walk and a single to load the bases with no outs.
Thomas, the Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year, quickly took control of the situation by getting a force out at home and two strikeouts to escape without any damage.
Meanwhile, her pitching counterpart, Galati, was cruising — at least until the third inning. That’s when Missouri third baseman Princess Krebs led off and reached first on an infield pop-up that dropped when Hofstra’s second baseman and shortstop collided. Krebs eventually advanced to second and came home to score when MU second baseman Emily Crane singled to center, giving Missouri a 1-0 lead.
Thomas settled down after her near-disastrous first inning and didn’t run into trouble again until the fifth, when Hofstra’s Chloe Fitzgerald laid down a bunt single and advanced to second when no one covered the base.
Thomas walked the next batter, giving Hofstra runners on first and second with two outs, and Fitzgerald advanced to third on a fielder’s choice at second, but Thomas rebounded to strike out the next batter to end the inning.
“When there’s runners on base I tend to shift to a different gear — I’m just competitive in that way,” Thomas said. “I don’t want anybody to score.”
But Hofstra wasn’t done threatening. With two outs in the sixth, Caryn Bailey singled and stole second to get in scoring position. Galati delivered with a single to left, but Bailey was gunned out at home from the outfield by Nicole Hudson to preserve Missouri’s 1-0 lead.
“I just got myself in a position where I knew I could throw her out,” Hudson said. “I felt like it was a pretty good throw when it left my hand. I’m surprised she went.”
Hofstra was at it again with a leadoff single in the seventh, but Thomas struck out the next two batters before Tessa Ziemba reached on a fielding error by Crane at second.
The error put runners on first and second with two outs, but it mattered little. Thomas got Erin Trippi on a a long fly ball to right that ended the game.
“Chelsea pitched us out of every jam we got into today,” Earleywine said.
Earleywine was optimistic that Thomas, who threw 132 pitches, will be ready to go today, though Thomas has been dealing with fatigue in her arm due to exertional compartment syndrome, which causes numbness in her throwing arm when she pitches too often.
“She’s going to have 24-plus hours to rest,” Earleywine said. “That’s a lot of pitches, but she was pretty much symptom-free today from my understanding, so I think she’ll be ready to go.”