Mizzou players meet on the pitching circle before the sixth inning during the Tigers extra-inning win over Oklahoma Sunday. (Photo by Nick Gerhardt)
By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director
The Missouri Tigers had years of frustration in games against Oklahoma melt away this weekend, and Sunday saw Mizzou complete a two-game sweep of the Sooners with another pitching gem and another heart-stopping walkoff finish, beating Oklahoma 1-0.
The game saw incredible pitching performances from both Mizzou’s Chelsea Thomas and Keilani Ricketts of Oklahoma. Chelsea, incredibly, had 17 strikeouts for the second day in a row, while Ricketts struck out 13, many with a change-up that was nearly unhittable. As regulation came to an end and one extra inning after another passed, the record-sized crowd had to wonder if the end would ever come.
But it did. Like Saturday night, it was a thriller and like Saturday night, Abby Vock scored the winning run. After sending the Tigers home winners with a homer last night in the ninth, Vock led off the eleventh Sunday with a single, stole second and then scored when Nicole Hudson singled into center. It was a close play at the plate, with neither Vock nor coach Ehren Earleywine in the third base box giving the slightest indication of slowing down.
On the day, the Tigers had 12 hits, including three from Hudson and freshman Princess Krebs, but Ricketts shut them down whenever they rallied. Tiger batters, who’d been a little hesitant the previous day, were more aggressive at the plate. “Ricketts is good,” noted Hudson after the game, “you go up thinking you’re going to swing at anything close and then, oop, you’re watching another one go by.” Four of Ricketts’ strikeouts were with Tiger hitters looking at the third strike, often her nasty change.
Earleywine joked with reporters after the game “you can ask me any question you want, because this is my last press conference. I’m done. I don’t have anything left to offer.”
“I’m just glad it’s over with. I’m exhausted.”
While the Tigers players and coach Earleywine all mentioned how impressed they were with the Sooners, and particularly Ricketts, it was the magnificent pitching of Thomas that was talked about most often. Every batter on the Sooners roster Sunday struck out at least once, many more often. Thomas punched out Haley Nix three times, and Sooners designated player Katie Norris had four at-bats, and struck out all four times.
Earleywine called it the best pitching performance over the course of a weekend he’d ever seen, noting at while at Georgia Tech he’d coached Jessica Sallinger, a two-time All-American.
One can only imagine how many similar honors await Thomas, who is still just a sophomore. The week of getting 10 strikeouts on Wednesday at Northern Iowa and 17 in both games against Oklahoma leaves Thomas with 241 for the season, which when NCAA stats are updated will likely put her in the top ten in the nation in that stat. Interesting to note is that one who remains above her is Oklahoma’s Ricketts, who started the week with 279 before striking out 16 Tigers Saturday and 13 on Sunday.
In spite of the win, which leaves the Tigers at 35-5 overall and 9-1 in Big 12 play, the Tigers still are one game behind league-leading Texas, which swept Iowa State this weekend. The Tigers face a mid-week double-header at SLU, then are on the road next weekend to take on a surprisingly strong Nebraska club. The final series against Big 12 teams will be a weekend at Oklahoma State, then home series against Texas, one which may well decide the conference championship before things wrap up in mid-May against Iowa State.
Notes: This was the first Tiger sweep of Oklahoma since 2006. With the win, Missouri runs it’s nation-leading home win streak to 32 games. Rhea Taylor, who had struggled against Ricketts and was dropped to the seven-hole in Sunday’s game, had infield singles in her final 2 at-bats. Her season batting average is now .367, 3rd on the team behind Ashley Fleming (.386) and rarely used freshman Taylor Duplechain (batting .375 with three hits in eight at-bats, the speedy Duplechain has appeared in 11 games, mainly pinch-running).