KBIA file photo by Karen Mitchell.
By Nick Gerhardt and Darren Hellwege
With one out in the top of the first inning, the Washington Huskies’ bullpen had already begun to come alive. Washington’s defense gave up five runs in the first 15 minutes and although pitcher Kaitlin Inglesby recovered enough to stave off a premature substitution, the Mizzou Tigers nevertheless triumphed and will advance to the Women’s College World Series.
Washington managed only three runs in eight hits. Meanwhile the Tigers had more runs (six) than hits (four), most of which came in the first inning.
Playing this game as the visiting team, Mizzou center fielder Rhea Taylor slapped the very first pitch of the game up the middle for a single. Washington’s Inglesby walked shortstop Jenna Marston after Taylor stole second base earlier in the at bat, and a bobbled throw by catcher Shawna Wright advanced both runners into scoring position before the Huskies logged their first out. Poor defense would become the defining trait of the Washington team that took the field on Sunday.
When third baseman Nicole Hudson singled Taylor home, she overran first base into what should have been a rundown, but a Washington throwing error allowed Marston to score while Hudson safely reached second base.
Hudson later slid under the catcher’s tag for the third Missouri run—RBI for designated hitter Marla Schweisberger—and right fielder Lisa Simmons crushed a home run over the right field wall for the fourth and fifth runs of the inning.
“Big teams have big innings,” said coach Ehren Earleywine, “and a good team will make you pay when you make mistakes.”
Mizzou starting pitcher Chelsea Thomas struggled to find the strike zone once the Tiger’s took the field. She loaded the bases in the bottom of the first, but escaped unscathed thanks in large part to shortstop Marston. She dove to keep a potential run-scoring single in the infield, then kept the Huskies off the scoreboard when she logged the final out of the inning.
Washington did not score until the fifth inning, and did not score again after that offensive surge.
Untimely errors plagued the Washington squad throughout the afternoon. In the third inning, left fielder Whitney Jones misjudged a pop fly that advanced Mizzou’s Ashley Fleming to third base. Fleming would eventually score the sixth and final Mizzou run on a passed ball.
Marston registered the only Mizzou error of the day, a costly one that spurred a near-comeback in the fifth inning by allowing Washington onto the scoreboard for the first of three runs. Kaitlin Inglesby, considered one of the better offensive pitchers in women’s softball, doubled during that pivotal fifth inning and drove home the second and third run.
Thomas escaped with the win, but appeared bothered by home plate umpire John Kurnat’s strike zone. Thomas and Washington’s Inglesby both threw a greater percentage of balls than their season average. Inglesby at one point trotted to within 20 feet of the Washington dugout before having to retreat to the mound as Kurant called “ball.”
Now, they prepare to take on another of the nation’s best hitting teams—perhaps the best hitting team, the Florida Gators —in their first game in the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. Earleywine knows the strategy, though.
“When you play the nation’s best hitting team, you like to have the nation’s best pitcher. We like our chances.”
And after two straight years of losing their first two games to be eliminated at the WCWS, Chelsea Thomas is looking for a different outcome this year. “We’re going to do some damage,” the pitcher said.
Despite the first inning Mizzou lead, coach Ehren Earleywine departed before the Tiger’s took the field. He earned his second ejection of the season by contesting a foul ball. The softball rolled in, out, then back in to fair territory before Washington third basemen Morgan Stewart touched it, but umpire John Kurnat had already made his call. Assistant coach Melissa Tucci took over coaching duties for the remainder of the game.
Earleywine seemed a bit embarrassed about the whole situation. “He (umpire John Kurnat) did what he needed to. I deserved it.” He said he’d rather focus on the good things his team accomplished, not “my mistake.”
“It was torturous watching this in the team room,” Earleywine said after the game. There was a five second delay, and I’d hear the fans cheer or boo and then have to wait to see what happened.”
Big 12 Represesents
Half of the teams in the Women’s College World Series play in the Big 12, as Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Missouri advance. Tournament play begins in Oklahoma City on Thursday, June 2 and wraps up the following Wednesday, June 8.
Final Stat Line
Mizzou: Pitcher Chelsea Thomas was credited with two earned runs on 10 hits in seven innings. She walked two batters and struck out nine.
Washington: Pitcher Kaitlin Inglesby was credited with five earned runs on four hits. She walked five batters and struck out four.
With the win, the Tigers are 52-8 on the year. The Huskies finish their season 37-15. Washington coach Heather Tarr offered this advice for the Tigers as they head to Oklahoma City. “Everybody tries to change their game, just go and do what you do.” It worked for the Huskies, who won a title in 2009. And, starting Thursday in Oklahoma City, the Tigers will see if what they do is good enough to win the school it’s first National Championship ever in softball and the first in any sport in 50 years.
Mizzou faces No. 4 Florida at 8:30 pm CDT on Thursday, June 2.