Mizzou softball players Ashley Fleming (30), Chelsea Thomas (16) and Nicole Hudson (8) celebrate the team's 6-3 win over Texas Sunday, May 8, 2011 at University Field in Columbia, Mo. The Tigers and Longhorns split the two-game series.
Saturday, nobody in the Mizzou lineup could solve Texas ace Blaire Luna. On Sunday, the Tigers came out with 10 hits, but it was Nicole Hudson taking the lead with her two-run home run in the third and RBI double in fourth that helped Mizzou to a desperately needed victory over the Longhorns, 6-3 at University Field.
The game, nationally televised on ESPN, keeps Mizzou’s hopes of a Big 12 championship alive. Should Mizzou win their final three games, one Wednesday at Oklahoma State, and a two-game series next weekend at home vs. Iowa State, they will be at least co-champs. Texas has one game left, a home match up with Baylor. Should MU win all three remaining games and the Lady Bears knock off UT, Mizzou will be the sole champion. If both teams win out, they’ll share the league title.
Hudson talked afterward about the importance of this game. “We knew that if we lost this game, we were out of the Big 12 race, and that was one of our two goals this year (along with a return to the College World Series in Oklahoma City)” And if the Tigers do finish the season with a trophy, much of it will have to do with a sharp turnaround for Hudson, who on March 30 was hitting .250 for the year. Since then she’s been on a torrid pace, hitting .417 since to raise her average to .336 prior to Sunday’s game.
Texas took the early lead when Taylor Hoagland, who has been a thorn in Mizzou’s side all weekend, singled to start a rally that ended up with her scoring to give the ‘Horns a 1-0 lead. But Mizzou responded with a run of their own in the first when Rhea Taylor, who started the game with a single then went to second on a throwing error, scored on Hudson’s first hit of the day, a solid single up the middle.
Texas took the lead again in the third when Hoagland’s single was followed by a Taylor Thom homer to put Texas up 3-1. But, Mizzou fought back and again, Hudson was right in the middle of it as the inning started with Jenna Marston walking and Hudson crushing a home run to straightaway center field to tie the game at three.
From there, Chelsea Thomas settled in to shut down the Longhorns while the Tiger bats kept producing. In the fifth Megan Christopher walked, and pinch-runner Taylor Duplechain was sacrificed to second. After a Rhea Taylor ground out consecutive base hits by Marston and Hudson gave Mizzou a 5-3 lead. Rhea Taylor would reach on a bunt single, steal second and score on a single by Marston to give Mizzou an insurance run in the sixth and a 6-3 win.
“I’m not sure if she’s just hitting well off Luna, or she’s just hot in general,” coach Ehren Earleywine said of Hudson. Either way, Hudson and the rest of this team responded to the challenge of a game they knew they had to win against the No. 4 team in the nation. “We looked that team in the eye, and we got their best effort, and we beat them” remarked Earleywine. “That says a lot about what we can do in the postseason.”
While Texas ace Luna, who had been nearly unhittable on Saturday showed some signs of fatigue late in the game, MU pitcher Chelsea Thomas just seemed to get stronger the longer she had to work. She finished with eight strikeouts on the day, scattering six hits and walking only two.
“When we get six runs, we’re not going to lose many games,” said Thomas. “Yesterday we were uptight, today we relaxed and just played our game. When we play well, our game’s really good.” She also had a lot of help behind her, with sparkling defense particularly from Hudson at third and Marston at shortstop. “It makes me more comfortable there, knowing I can give up grounders.”
And while the primary focus of Mizzou on this day was winning a game they needed for the conference championship, there was a measure of revenge as well. Rhea Taylor remembered that a series at Austin against UT last year was “the worst part of the season.”
“We made a point to come out today and get the win,” said Taylor, adding “we’re not very fond of them.” Asked to elaborate, she said she’d rather not.
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