The Missouri softball team is headed back to the Women's College World Series.
The Tigers' 6-3 win over Washington at University Field on Sunday night gave them a sweep of their Super Regional and punched their ticket to Oklahoma City for the third consecutive season.
When senior second baseman Abby Vock fielded a ground ball and tagged out Morgan Stuart between second and first to end the game, it released a torrent of Missouri players from the dugout to join the celebration in the infield.
The Tigers (52-8) proceeded to do a victory lap, slapping palms with fans down the lines and in the bleachers. The crowd of 2,604 was a University Field record - one that was set a night earlier when 2,595 showed up for game one of the Super Regional.
Waiting for the Tigers in Oklahoma City will be Florida, the team that eliminated Missouri from last year's WCWS. They will play Thursday at 8:30 p.m.
The past two years Missouri has been swept out of the WCWS in two games, but the Tigers are confident this time will be different.
"This time when we get back there we're going to do some damage," redshirt sophomore Chelsea Thomas said.
"Going into the World Series, it's no 'Two and BBQ' this time," senior Rhea Taylor said. "We're going in to win."
For the second straight night, Thomas pitched a complete game victory. Coming into the game with a 0.79 ERA, she proved human by giving up three runs and 10 hits. But Missouri's grasp on the game was never seriously in doubt thanks to a five-run outburst in the first inning that included Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine getting tossed from the game.
Playing as the road team, the Tigers came to bat in the top of the first and immediately put the Huskies on their toes.
Taylor lined the game's first pitch past pitcher Kaitlin Inglesby's face for a single. After sophomore Jenna Marston walked, both she and Taylor advanced a base on a passed ball. Sophomore Nicole Hudson followed with a single to right that scored Taylor. Marston also scored on the play on a throwing error by the first baseman.
Hudson advanced to second on the error and made it to third on a passed ball during junior Ashley Fleming's at-bat. After Fleming grounded out to first, senior Marla Schweisberger hit a ground ball to the shortstop, who then threw home to try and nab Hudson attempting to score. Hudson slid under the catcher's tag for Missouri's third run.
Senior Lisa Simmons followed that up with home run to right field on the first pitch she saw and Missouri had a 5-0 lead.
The last bit of fireworks in the inning came when sophomore Princess Krebs sent a swinging bunt down the third base line.
The third baseman Stuart waited to see where the ball would roll and when she picked it up the home plate umpire ruled it foul.
Earleywine came from the third base coaching box and, fired up, tore into the home plate umpire. He was quickly ejected.
"It was so torturous watching from the team room," Earleywine said. "There was like a five-second delay. You would hear the cheering or the booing or whatever, and then five seconds later it would happen [on the TV]."
Nonetheless, when the inning was over, Thomas had a five-run lead without throwing a pitch.
"When we get a run in the first inning, let alone five, I know we're going to win the game," Thomas said.
Thomas spent the rest of the game weaving in and out of jams. She escaped unscathed from a bases loaded, one out scoring threat in the bottom of the first, but was touched up for three runs in the fifth. Thomas limited the damage by striking out two hitters with runners on first and third to get out of the inning.
Thomas improved her record to 31-6 and struck out nine. Her ability to win with less than her best stuff encouraged Earleywine going into the WCWS.
"When she doesn't have a great outing she is bound and determined in her next outing to do better," Earleywine said. "That's the nice thing leading into the College World Series with her with a little thorn in her saddle."