COLUMBIA — It was a situation Missouri’s softball team had been in many times over four years, often with positive results: Star pitcher Chelsea Thomas on the mound, nursing a one-run lead and needing only three more outs to secure a victory.
By TEREZ PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Unfortunately for the Tigers, the Washington Huskies — Missouri’s opponent in the opening game of the NCAA Super Regional on Thursday at University Field — had no intention of letting it play out that way, as the Huskies used a few timely hits and a pair of Missouri fielding errors to rally for a 2-1 victory in eight innings.
“In a championship setting like this, it’s always that one little mistake that costs you because it’s such a close ballgame,” said Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine.
Missouri tallied only four hits all game but put itself in position to win after Washington pitcher Kaitlin Inglesby issued a leadoff walk to Emily Crane, who advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jenna Marston. Angela Randazzo later singled off the pitcher’s glove to put runners on first and third with two outs. An RBI single by first baseman Kelsea Roth broke the scoreless tie.
The Tigers appeared to be in good shape at that point, with Thomas — who had thrown only 81 pitches and allowed two hits over the first six innings — needing only three more outs to get the win.
“I was feeling pretty good — statistics would say you’re going to win that game,” Earleywine said. “And 95 times out of 100, (Chelsea) does.”
However, things began to come apart when Inglesby opened the seventh with a leadoff walk, and pinch-runner Dani Braun advanced to second on a wild pitch. Braun then advanced to third when third baseman Princess Krebs committed a fielding error — her fourth in three games — and promptly came home to score when Shawna Wright singled into the hole to tie the game at 1-1.
“Fielding is a lot like hitting, you can get in defensive slumps,” Earleywine said of Krebs and his team in general, which he criticized for a lack of focus in practice this week.
Thomas settled down and retired the next two hitters to end the inning, but Washington, 42-15, had the momentum, and the Huskies seized the lead for good in the eighth, which started when Kelli Suguro singled and advanced to second on an error by Roth at first base.
“I misplayed a ball and threw it when I shouldn’t have,” Roth said.
Suguro came home to score on a RBI double by Victoria Hayward, and the Huskies made the 2-1 lead stand, as reliever Bryana Walker, 18-7, retired the Tigers 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning to get the win.
Missouri, 38-13, now needs to beat Washington twice Friday to advance to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2011. Game two of the series starts at 5 p.m., with game three slated to start at 8 p.m., if necessary.
Perhaps the biggest question now looming is how Earleywine will deploy Thomas, who has been dealing with numbness and tingling in her throwing arm for more than a month. She threw 119 pitches on Thursday, allowing two runs on five hits with seven strikeouts, but seemed determined to take the mound again Friday.
“I feel like I’m ready to throw two games (Friday),” Thomas said. “I know I’ll be better. … I am actually very positive right now. I feel like our team will make the adjustments. These six seniors aren’t ready to be done.”
Earleywine, who was encouraged by Thomas’ optimism, said the emphasis will clearly be on winning the first game Friday.
“From here, we’ve got our backs against the wall,” he said. “We’ll see what this team is made of.”
To reach Terez Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.