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May 27, 2012
It took two games and 19 innings, but the LSU Tigers (39-23) were able to pull off the upset over the Missouri Tigers (47-14) and ended Mizzou's season.
Entering Sunday, Mizzou had to win two games to advance to its fourth straight Women's College World Series after falling to LSU 6-1 on Saturday night. Sunday's first game was an epic pitchers duel between Chelsea Thomas and Brittany Mack that left the teams tied at one through 11 innings.
In the top of the 12th, Missouri was able to put the game away against LSU after third baseman Tammy Wray's force-out throw at home went awry, scoring three Tigers and sending the crowd into a frenzy. After another run for more insurance, Bailey Erwin came in relief of Chelsea Thomas and closed the door on a 5-1 Mizzou victory.
Unfortunately for Missouri, that game was only half the battle, even though it nearly lasted as long as two games. Despite having already thrown 15.1 innings in the preceding 24 hours, Mizzou coach Ehren Earleywine once again stuck Thomas on the mound later saying that "we're (going to) throw her until she can't throw anymore. It's what you (have to) do."
After a half-hour intermission, the two teams ran back on the field for a decisive Game 3 in front of a diluted audience that was most certainly affected by the 30-minute layoff. Through the first two innings, both pitchers appeared to be on their game as Thomas and Rachele Fico, who had thrown a gem the night prior, both retired every batter they faced.
That's when things started to get interesting.
With runners on 2nd and 3rd, Mackenzie Sykes laid down a suicide squeeze bunt that scored Kayla Kingsley and gave Mizzou a 1-0 lead. It was also apparent that Mizzou had momentum, especially considering the 12th inning rally had occurred less than an hour prior. Fico hit Jenna Marston, which brought Mizzou's best hitter, Ashley Fleming, to the batter's box with one out and the bases loaded: prime opportunity for Missouri to put LSU away. The slugger hit one hard straight to center field into the glove of Simone Heyward. Corrin Genovese tagged up and headed towards home in a play that would remind Les Miles and Gary Pinkel of an Oklahoma drill. Heyward rifled the ball to catcher Morgan Russell who stonewalled Genovese at the plate for the inning-ending double play. Russell put Genovese on her back, which wasn't the first rough play by LSU fielders. However, there were no flagrant calls, which prompted Earleywine to comment after the game that he felt that "there were several points in that game where the umpires didn't do enough."
In the bottom of the 3rd, LSU loaded the bases by virtue of two walks issued by Thomas, in addition to another batter being hit. Heyward, who initiated the inning ending double play in the top half of the 3rd, stepped in and shot one right through the left-center gap to clear the bases and give LSU a 3-1 lead, essentially booking their tickets to Oklahoma City.
The last 4 innings were a mere formality. Erwin replaced Thomas and Fico didn't allow another hit, putting the game on ice. Heyward, who had all three RBI's for LSU, said she "could tell (Thomas) was not getting the spin on the ball she wanted to."
And just like that, the dream is over for the Missouri Tigers. Both Thomas and Fleming failed to hold back tears in the postgame press conference. The Tigers fell one win short of a fourth consecutive World Series bid. But next year should bring another chance for Mizzou.
Only Fleming will not be back for next season among the major contribtors.. Four players in the starting lineup were freshman and their development should help mask the loss of Fleming. Kelsea Roth, in particular, looks like a player that will be much better with a year under her belt. Another year of growing should help her turn that warning track power into home-run power. It wouldn't be a shock to anybody if Roth goes out and hits 20 home runs next season. Kayla Kingsley is also a player that really developed over the last half of the year as she became a fantastic slap hitter.
Of course, the team's fortunes next year will be heavily reliant upon the two-time Big 12 pitcher of the year, Thomas. Next time, the Tigers hope to take it one step further.
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