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May 12, 2013

Tigers the six seed in softball tournament


That Missouri was in the NCAA Softball Tournament for a 7th consecutive season was in no doubt. As the team and supporters gathered Sunday night for the NCAA Selection Show, the major question was whether the Tigers would receive one of the top eight national seeds and be in line to play host to both Regionals and Super Regionals.

The answer to that was a resounding yes. Mizzou received the sixth overall seed in the tournament.

"Got what we deserved," head coach Ehren Earleywine said. "And that's rare here at Missouri. I'm glad they made the right choice."

"I was pleasantly surprised at the six seed," senior pitcher Chelsea Thomas said. "The home field advantage is so important. The fans, sleeping in your own bed, knowing the field, it's been a blessing that we've gotten to host every year since we've been here. I don't really know otherwise, but I know it's been good to us."

Seven of the top 16 were SEC teams, including No. 2 Florida, which beat the Tigers in the SEC Tournament title game on Saturday. The league got 11 teams in overall.

The Tigers enter tournament play at 35-11, fresh off a second-place finish in the conference tournament. Mizzou will face fourth-seeded Stony Brook in its opening game of regional play Friday at approximately 6:30 in Columbia. The Seawolves are 35-23 this season and won the America East Conference tournament.

"I know absolutely nothing about the teams we play," Earleywine said. "By Thursday, I'll know absolutely everything."

Oregon State (33-22, 8-16 PAC-12) and Hofstra (43-11, Colonial Champs) play the other game in Missouri's regional. Hofstra is led by Olivia Galati, who sports a 1.40 ERA and a national best 370 strikeouts. That one starts at 4. Both games are available online only on ESPN3.

"Hofstra's scary. They're always beating people," Earleywine said. "They're the giant killer. Then you throw Oregon State in there who's in the Pac-10 or 12 or whatever they call that conference. They're always good. You play in that conference, you're gonna be competitive."

Should Mizzou come out of the four-team pod, the Tigers would host the winner of the Seattle Regional in next week's Super Regionals. Washington, Hawaii, Minnesota and Portland State are in that regional. Washington played in Columbia in the 2011 Super Regionals. The Tigers won the first two games in that series to advance to their most recent Women's College World Series.

For the Tigers, the major question is pitching. Thomas has carried a heavy workload this season. She will be heavily leaned on just as heavily during the post-season. Nicole Hudson is Missouri's No. 2 and will be used at times during the tournament, but Thomas will throw pretty much every critical pitch over the next few weeks.

"I can't solidify anything until I see the stats on the other teams we're playing," Earleywine said. "I think the big question now is can we throw Hudson on Friday? I won't know the answer to that till Thursday."

The Tigers average more than six runs per game and that offense could be a big boost in resting Thomas a bit during the regional.

"We've hit the ball better this year than any time I've been here," catcher Jenna Marston said. "Hopefull we can carry it into the post-season."

Thomas will certainly take the ball any time she is asked, particularly with this being her last NCAA Tournament.

"I'm sure she'll be asking for it," Marston said. "But coach E's got to think about the rest of the postseason as well. He's gonna do what's best for her and the team."

"There's nothing to lose," Thomas said. "It's my last year. I'm going all out."

PowerMizzou.com will provide coverage throughout the Regional and, if the Tigers advance, Super Regional. Tickets for the regional will go on sale Monday at noon. Saturday games will be at noon, 2:30 and 5 p.m. Sunday games are at 1 p.m. and 3:30 (if necessary).

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