By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director
The Missouri Tigers softball team picked up a mid-week sweep over Western Illinois in a double-header, with a little history as part of the day. Tigers pitcher Chelsea Thomas set the school’s all-time single season strikeout record, as the Tigers won the games 7-2 and 5-0.
“It’s a good honor, something I’ve worked hard for,” Thomas said of the record. She recorded her 287th strikeout in the fourth inning to break the mark of Erin Kalka set in 2004.
The Tigers won game one behind 3-3 hitting by Rhea Taylor, and two RBIs each from Abby Vock and Maddison Ruggeberg. Kristin Nottleman got the win, striking out seven and giving up three hits as she moved to 14-1 on the year.
“I wanted Nottleman to have a good day, and I think this was her best outing of the season,” said coach Ehren Earleywine.
The two runs scored by the Leathernecks were both unearned. Nottleman’s ERA is now 1.63, tied for seventh in the Big 12 conference.
Mizzou scored in the first in typical Tiger fashion with Taylor beating out an infield hit, stealing second on the first pitch, then scoring on a single by Hudson. Taylor’s bat also started things in the third as she singled, stole second, went to third on a fielder’s choice then scored on another. Hudson also scored in the frame on a Ruggeberg single.
But the big inning for Mizzou was the fourth, as they batted around and scored four runs with Cat Lee doubling, Marla Schweisberger singling and then another double from hot-hitting Abby Vock bringing them both home. Taylor followed with a fourth hit in a row for the Tigers, plating Vock with a double. Shana White pinch ran for Taylor and scored later in the inning on a sacrifice fly by Ruggeberg.
In game two, the Tigers would get 10 hits including two each from Hudson and Princess Krebs and the first home run of the year for Kathryn Poet. And although Thomas gave up just two hits, Earleywine said she wasn’t at her best. But he wasn’t too disappointed at that.
“She was not especially sharp today, but maybe that’s good. She’ll be pissed about it, and really be ready for Saturday,” said Earleywine, anticipating the Tigers’ upcoming weekend. In spite of not being “especially sharp” in her coach’s opinion, she still did an acceptable job, giving up two hits and striking out eight in moving her ERA to 0.70, the lowest for any pitcher in the nation.
The Tigers prepare for one of the biggest series of the year as they welcome Texas to University Field this weekend. The Longhorns currently are in first place in the conference at 13-1, with the Tigers right behind at 11-2. A sweep over Texas will give Mizzou their first Big 12 regular season championship since 1997. The teams play Saturday at 2 and again at noon on Sunday. The Sunday game will be nationally televised on ESPN.
The win over WIU and strikeout record weren’t the only thing being celebrated by Chelsea Thomas Wednesday. Thomas also accepted an invitation to tryout for the USA National softball team in June. Thomas is one of two Tigers trying out, joined by senior centerfielder Rhea Taylor.
“This is just crazy, I’m so happy,” she gushed after Wednesday’s game. “It’s been a dream since I was a little girl to play for the national team.”
Earleywine said Thomas’ performance against Oklahoma on national TV a few weeks ago caught the eye of some of those putting the team together. “I’ve been telling them some day she’d be the national team’s best pitcher, I’m just glad she’s getting her chance now instead of having to wait. I’m so happy for her, it’s really been her dream. Guys dream of playing pro baseball, these girls, the big dream is the US National Team.”