Missouri softball team beats Stony Brook in NCAA regional game

Missouri senior Jenna Marston sure couldn’t have picked a better time to hit her first home run of the season.

With two runners on and the Tigers embroiled in a scoreless tie with Stony Brook on Friday, Marston stepped to the plate and smashed a three-run home run to right that propelled Missouri to a 3-0 victory in its opening game of the NCAA regional at University Field.

“It was a pitch inside, and that’s where she’d thrown me the pitch before,” Marston said. “It’s nice, in a game like this, to get (a home run) like that.”

Marston’s hit was only the second of the game for Missouri, which got a pair of runners on base for her when Stony Brook pitcher Allison Cukrov issued walks to Rachel Hay and Emily Crane.

“It was a dropper that was flat,” Cukrov said of the pitch thrown to Marston. “Obviously the two walks before it didn’t help.”

And while Cukrov would not allow another hit after Marston’s home run, that three-run advantage was all the Tigers needed, as senior pitcher Nicole Hudson pitched a complete-game, two-hit shutout, her second shutout of the season.

“I threw a lot of drops and was able to keep those at the knees.” Hudson said. “Most of all, my defense made a couple of incredible plays behind me, so I felt pretty good out there.”

Hudson certainly had help — shortstop Corrin Genovese, third baseman Princess Krebs and second baseman Emily Crane all had highlight-reel defensive plays at some point during the game — but Hudson’s performance also vindicated coach Ehren Earleywine’s decision to start her instead of reigning Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year Chelsea Thomas, who will now be fresh for the rest of the weekend.

“From a spectator’s point of view, you know it’s right whenever a drop-ball pitcher is missing low — that’s the way good drop-ball pitchers look,” Earleywine said. “I knew early on in the second inning that she’d be effective … (but) I didn’t know she’d be that effective.”

With the win, Missouri, 36-11, advances in the winners’ bracket of the four-team, double-elimination tournament, and will face Hofstra at noon today. Hofstra improved to 44-11 by beating Oregon State. The winner of the Missouri-Hofstra that game will then have the inside edge at winning the regional, as it will have two chances to beat the winner of the losers’ bracket on Sunday.

The stakes give added weight to what amounts to an impressive pitching matchup on paper. Thomas will surely take the mound against Hofstra star Olivia Galati, who improved to 38-10 with her win on Friday. Galati has now won 12 consecutive games and boasted an ERA of 1.39 entering the regional, which is comparable to Thomas’ 1.23 ERA.

Earleywine admitted after the game that he was frustrated Thomas even had to throw on Friday — she began warming up when the game remained scoreless over the first four innings — but was grateful Marston gave his team a lead that Hudson was able to hold, .

“Chelsea’s ready to roll (today) at noon,” Earleywine said.