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The 2013 Mizzou softball season, which started with such fanfare and hope, ended tonight as the Tigers lost to the Washington Huskies 1-0 in the second game of their Super Regional. Mizzou, which had been on a record setting hitting pace heading into the post-season, could not string together enough hits to get to either of the Huskies aces.
After a walk and a near home run to start the game the Tigers looked like they might be able to get the offense going on a sunny evening at University Field. Unfortunately, for Mizzou, it was not to be.
"We had a lot of plays in the game that maybe could have gotten through. They had a lot of good plays so there are a lot of things that could have gone our way, but didn't. It just wasn't in the cards for us," senior pitcher Chelsea Thomas explained.
Tonight's offensive struggles for Mizzou built upon what turned into a post-season of frustrations for the Tigers at the plate. After being on pace to set the team batting record during the regular season, Mizzou could not get their bats going when it counted finishing 6 for 48 and scoring just one run for the series.
"I couldn't pin point it exactly," senior outfielder Nicole Hudson said of the teams hitting struggles. "If I did know I think I would have done my best to try and fix it. It's just one of those things and maybe we were just a little bit too tight. I'm not sure."
"I can't explain it. Especially the offensive part of it. This year we swung the bats pretty good all season. In the SEC tournament we hit well. We hit over .300 as a team for the season. We hit close to .300 or maybe better during the SEC regular season of 24 games. I don't know the explanation. I'm kind of like Nicole [Hudson]. If I knew the answer I would have certainly tried to do something to fix it. Our offense hit the skids is all I can say. Chelsea [Thomas] was good enough ... way good enough," added head coach Ehren Earleywine.
As Earleywine pointed out, despite all the problems the Tigers had at the plate, senior ace Chelsea Thomas was nearly good enough to carry Mizzou through to the Women's College World Series. For the weekend she pitched 14 innings, allowing 3 earned runs on 7 hits. She also only allowed 3 base-on-balls while striking out 11. For Thomas, though, the ups and downs of the offense were just part of being on a team.
"I knew yesterday that I had two games to throw today so I really prepared mentally. I can't tell you enough how if you can get yourself to be mentally ready it can affect your body physically. I didn't want to be done," she said. "[The offense] carried me through part of the season when I couldn't hardly throw the ball. I feel like that is just part of being on a team. You pick each other up."
The Huskies one run for the game came from leadoff hitter Victoria Hayward's bat on a ball that might have been assisted by mother nature.
"I was looking for a hard pitch to square up and I got the one I was looking for," she stated. "No I did not think it was out. The right fielder looked like she was going to catch it at first and then she started drifting back and I think a gust of wind helped me out there and pushed it out."
For the season Mizzou finished with a record of 38-14. Earleywine said he'll spend a little time catching up with his family, after a season of long work days, and then he'll prepare for the 2014 season and one of the top freshman classes in Missouri softball history.
Thomas ends her Missouri career with a school record 111 wins. Over her 5 year career, she redshirted a year due to injury, the Tigers had a combined record of 239 and 63. That equals a nearly 80% winning percentage.
"I hate [the season ending] for Chelsea," said Earleywine. "I hate it for her because I feel like she's as good as pitcher as there is in the country and I feel like the rest of us kind of let her down to be honest with you. When you have a pitcher of that caliber you should play for national championships often and we didn't. It's my fault. I'm not only the head coach, but I'm the hitting coach so I take all the responsibility for that. I feel like we missed a great opportunity in her four years here to maybe win it all."
"I've been a Mizzou fan since I was a little boy and I can't remember anybody having anymore success in any sport than Chelsea Thomas," he continued. "In a non-revenue sport, to be as popular as she has been and create the excitement around the state that she has created ... she's kind of put softball on the map for us in the state of Missouri. When the stands are packed and kids line up for her autograph and she can't go to the mall, it's just really cool."
Unfortunately, for Mizzou, maybe the biggest statement for the weekend came during Nicole Hudson's post-game press availability. After her career as a Tiger had come to an end.
"My dream, from as far as I can remember, was to come here to Mizzou and play softball," she said. "I'm incredibly blessed that I got to live that out, cause how many people actually get to do that in their lives."
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