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May 20, 2012
The old adage is that it's hard to beat the same team three times.
Try beating them four times.
That's basically what Chelsea Thomas did on Sunday as her Missouri Tigers (46-12) defeated the Illinois State Redbirds (37-23) 2-1 on Sunday. After forcing Lindsey Greene to ground out, it appeared that the game was over and the Tigers left the dugout in celebration. That celebration was cut short, however, after the home plate umpire ruled that Thomas had thrown an illegal pitch advancing Greene to first base.
Jhavon Hamilton, Illinois State's most potent bat, stepped into the batter's box with runners on first and second. Once again, Thomas forced a groundout that was almost a mirror image of the one that preceded it. Except this time, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Corrin Genovese was unable to corral the ball and the shortstop's error left the bases loaded for Lauren Kellar, a .305 hitter.
Thomas didn't sweat it. The two-time defending Big 12 Pitcher of the Year blew Kellar away on just four pitches. That sealed a 2-1 Missouri win that moved the Tigers into next weekend's NCAA Tournament Super Regional round.
"Next pitch, that's what I always say," Thomas said after the game.
That motto seems to be working pretty well for Thomas, who might have had her most impressive game of the weekend despite allowing her first. Her bid for another no-hitter was broken up in the 5th inning after Elizabeth Kay hit a shot up the middle. On the very next pitch, she hit Laura Canopy right on the facemask. Caiti Kopp laid down a well-placed bunt and the Redbirds had runners on second and third with just one out.
Thomas forced a groundout from Nichelle Harrison and struck out pinch-hitter Sara Bradley to end the threat. After Lindsey Muller hit a home run over the left field fence to double the Mizzou lead to 2-0 in the top of the sixth, Thomas was yet again forced to pitch her way out of a jam. She gave up a two-out RBI double to Elizabeth Kay, which sawed the Tiger lead in half and put the tying run in scoring position.
Thomas struck Canopy and ended the threat. When the pressure is on, Thomas responded.
"The situation dictates when she shifts gears," said coach Ehren Earleywine.
Next up for Mizzou will be LSU in the Super Regional. The series will be held in Columbia by virtue of the fact that LSU defeated regional host Texas A&M 2-1 today and the Aggies were ranked one spot ahead of Missouri. Mizzou isn't overly familiar with the future SEC foe, but with Earleywine in charge, you can bet they'll be prepared.
"I don't know much about LSU, but by Wednesday I'll know more about them than they know about themselves," he said.
The Tigers-Mizzou's version--will continue to rely heavily on Chelsea Thomas next weekend and there's sure to be heavy pressure on her.
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