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March 9, 2011

Tigers blank Arkansas

Chelsea Thomas was angry.

It was the top of the second inning Wednesday afternoon at University Field. Arkansas had the bases loaded and one out.

After getting the first out of the inning, a hit by pitch, infield single and throwing error on Thomas led to a serious Razorback scoring threat.

It was time for the redshirt sophomore pitcher to bear down and escape, and if you're in the batter's box, that's bad news.

Unleashing the velocity that helped her throw two perfect games last week and garner national and conference awards, Thomas went to work.

She struck out the next two hitters to get out of the inning. Then she set down the next six hitters. All were on strikes and all ended with the flustered Arkansas batter swinging at nothing but air.

By the end of Missouri's five-inning 12-0 victory over Arkansas, it almost seemed an afterthought that the Razorbacks were once in the game. Thomas' competitive nature took care of that in the second inning.

"Situations like that always make you mad as a pitcher and you want to strike out the next couple batters even worse than before," Thomas said. "I knew that's what I had to do."

Thomas' dominance reaffirmed coach Ehren Earleywine's belief in her abilities.

"In all the years that I played and everything, that was the thing when you could tell if you had a real stud on the mound," Earleywine said. "Somebody gets in scoring position, they shift gears and the hitters had no chance. You saw that today. They had zero chance."

Thomas improved to 3-3 on the year by going four innings, giving up two hits and striking out 10. She now has 67 strikeouts in 39 innings.

But such dominance wasn't necessary the way Missouri hit Arkansas' pitching. Missouri jumped all over Razorback starter senior Kim Jones in the first inning, scoring four quick runs. Senior Rhea Taylor reached base on an error by the second baseman, and then promptly stole second base to move her into first place all-time on the Big 12's stolen base list with 154.

After a fly out and a walk, junior Ashley Fleming pulled a line drive homer over the right field fence to give Missouri a 3-0 lead.

Later, sophomore Lindsey Muller's double to right scored freshman Maddison Ruggeberg to make it 4-0 Missouri.

"I was so proud of them in the first inning because they squared up two or three balls on a 40 degree day with wind blowing and just overcast [skies]," Earleywine said. "I played this game - it's hard to hit when the weather is nice, much less a day like today."

With their chance at a rally spoiled in the top half of inning, the Razorbacks were pushed even deeper into a corner in the bottom of the second. Missouri's first six batters reached base in an offensive surge that saw the Tigers increase their lead to 10-0.

Fleming was again part of the rally, barely missing her second home run in as many at-bats by hitting a double inches below the top of the left-center field wall.

After the Tigers plated two more runs in the third inning, it became clear it was only a matter of time before Missouri would get its third win via run-rule in four games.

Fleming said the offense is finding a rhythm.

"You don't want to be peaking at the beginning of the season, you want to be peaking at the end," said Fleming, who finished with five runs batted in. "I think we're starting to get where we need to be."

The Tigers (12-3) ride a nine-game winning streak into the DeMarini Invitational this weekend, where they will face off against Illinois State and Illinois on Saturday and Sunday.


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