June 6, 2013
The Mizzou softball team's 2013 season was one powered by a trio of standout seniors and bolstered by the newfound experience of a stellar sophomore class. Senior pitcher Chelsea Thomas hurled her way to another conference pitcher of the year award, this time in the Tigers' new home of the Southeastern Conference. The two-time Big 12 Pitcher of the Year cruised through a new league, helped along the way by the bats of classmates Nicole Hudson and Jenna Marston. The Tigers advanced to their sixth-straight NCAA Super Regional and placed third as a team in the SEC's regular season standings, further positioning themselves as a group to be reckoned with in the conference and the country under the direction of head coach Ehren Earleywine.
The hot-hitting senior duo of Hudson and Marston used strong final seasons at the plate to finish in Mizzou's all-time top 10 in career hits, doubles, at-bats, runs scored, RBI and walks. As a matter of fact, Hudson (143) and Marston (134) rank No. 1 and No. 2 atop the Tigers' all-time walks chart. Hudson finished one home run shy of matching Jen Bruck (2005-08) for the school's career long ball record of 47, while Marston finished second in both doubles (53) and runs scored (193).
Key contributors in Mizzou's sophomore class - shortstop Corrin Genovese, outfielder Kayla Kingsley, third baseman Angela Randazzo and first baseman Kelsea Roth - raised their offensive games to help boost the Tigers' run-scoring ability. The group that collectively batted .249 from the plate as true freshmen in 2012 increased their productivity to a .308 batting average in 2013. There was a noticeable power surge as the foursome went from slugging .385 last season to a .534 slugging percentage in 2013.
Added into the mix was a new leadoff hitter for the Tigers in freshman second baseman Emily Crane. The Mizzou newcomer did more than just contribute - she led the Tigers with a .376 batting average and tied for the team-high in doubles (16) with Marston.
Mizzou's lineup also included the experience of three more seniors - catcher Rachel Hay, infielder Princess Krebs and first baseman Lindsey Muller. Adding upper class experience were junior outfielder Mackenzie Sykes and junior utility player Brianna Corwin. Sykes played both left field and center field, while Corwin was used in pinch running situations during the 2013 season.
A platoon of young outfielders rotated into action, as well. Sophomore Kelsi Jones, redshirt freshmen Taylor Gadbois and Carlie Rose, along with freshman Sarah Moore saw time amongst the three outfield positions. Redshirt freshman Alyssa Cousins also contributed at catcher and in pinch-hitting situations.
Hudson's senior season was off to a great start with her very first two at-bats of the year. In Mizzou's season-opening, five-inning, 11-3 win at UCSB, Hudson rocked home runs in consecutive at-bats. Her offensive heroics set the tone for the Tigers' season-opening California trip, with her 7-for-12 performance at the plate (five home runs, 11 RBI) earning her SEC Player of the Week recognition on Feb. 18. Thomas was her typical self in the circle, striking out 19 batters in two complete games to receive her first of five SEC Pitcher of the Week awards.
The second week of the Tigers' West Coast excursion featured a big non-conference matchup between new conference foes: No. 7 Mizzou vs. No. 5 Florida. The Tigers and Gators tangoed for 12 innings at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Palm Springs, Calif., on Feb. 22, with the pitching of Thomas proving to be a deciding factor. She accumulated a career-best 19 strikeouts in the 4-3 extra inning win that got Mizzou out to an 8-0 start to the 2013 season. The downside to the California trip was the loss of sophomore second baseman Ashtin Stephens to a shoulder injury for the remainder of the season.
The Tigers' offense really cranked it up a notch for their first SEC road series, a March 15-17 trip to Ole Miss. Hiccups occurred up to that point in the season, with Mizzou splitting games with Cal State Fullerton to close its stay in California (Feb. 23) and at home vs. No. 7 Texas A&M (March 8-9). The win over the Aggies (March 8) came in the most dramatic of fashions with Roth hitting a walk-off, two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh with two outs. One of 16 long balls hit by Roth in her second Mizzou season, the game-winner punctuated a one-hitter pitching performance from Thomas.
The Tigers' visit to the Rebels had runs - an incredible amount of runs. Mizzou outscored Ole Miss 29-1 over three games, with wins of 11-0, 6-1 and 12-0 occurring at the Ole Miss Softball Complex. Hudson and Roth both homered during the series to match each other at eight apiece. The two finished the 2013 season with identical totals of 16 long balls each.
The last win of the Ole Miss series began a streak of seven-consecutive run-rule victories for the Tigers. Mizzou rolled up two five-inning wins at home vs. Georgia Tech by scores of 8-0 and 16-0 on March 23. The Tigers then swept league foe South Carolina with three run-rule wins; 10-2 in six innings on March 29 followed by five-inning wins of 12-3 and 8-0 in a doubleheader on March 30.
Every season has rough patches and the Tigers had one No. 4 Alabama from April 5-7 and when hosting Arkansas from April 12-13. A Thomas-led performance by the Tigers on April 6 netted Mizzou its only triumph in Tuscaloosa, a 9-4 win. Missouri's lone win against the Razorbacks opened the series, a five-inning 9-0 win on April 12. Roth hit a game-ending two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth to invoke the run-rule result.
At a point in the season where Earleywine's crew needed to be on top of its game, the Tigers were looking at back-to-back road weekends in the SEC against ranked teams. The first trip at No. 11 LSU was a rematch of the previous season's NCAA Super Regional in which host Mizzou was limited just shy of the Women's College World Series. Strong Friday and Sunday starts from Thomas and home runs from Hudson in the series finale helped the Black & Gold-clad Tigers take the series with 6-1 and 3-2 wins, dropping the middle game.
A mid-week split with tough non-conference foe Western Kentucky (April 24) prefaced the Tigers trip to No. 19 Kentucky and John Cropp Stadium, which serve as the site of the SEC Tournament less than two weeks later. The series with UK started with extra innings as Hudson drove in both RBI in a nine-inning, 2-1 win on April 26. The senior slugger homered in the top of the ninth inning for the game-winner after tying the game in the seventh with an RBI single. After yielding the middle game to the Wildcats, Mizzou's bats came alive for the series finale with a 7-0 win (April 28).
The Tiger offense kept riding high into the mid-week doubleheader at Western Illinois (May 1), first with a 10-5 win over the Leathernecks in which Crane smacked her third home run of her inaugural Tiger campaign. In the second game of the day, Mizzou rolled to a six-inning, 12-4 win, in which one of the program's top hitting performances of the season occurred. Marston batted 4-for-5 in the game, knocking in two RBI and scoring two runs. The only other four-hit outing for a Tiger in 2013 came from Muller, a 4-for-4 day at UCSB in a 12-1 win (Feb. 17).
The stage was then set for Mizzou's final home regular season series, welcoming No. 2 Tennessee to University Field. A big game calls for a big performance, and that's exactly what Tigers fans saw from Thomas on May 4. Mizzou's ace threw her 11th career no-hitter to silence the SEC's hottest-hitting team. The Lady Vols entered the contest batting a league-best .344, but were sat down by seven strikeouts from Thomas and a strong Tiger defensive effort. An impromptu doubleheader game followed, with UT taking the late-night contest.
Senior Day for Mizzou was an exciting day. The final regular season home game for Hudson, Hay, Krebs, Marston, Muller and Thomas was bound to be an emotional contest, but those emotions turned out to be entirely excitement as an offensive showcase ensued to clinch the series. The Tigers led 2-1 after the first inning, but the fun had barely started, as 17 combined runs were scored by the two teams over the next two innings. Mizzou emerged from the fray with a 12-8 victory, thanks in large part to Hudson, who pitched the complete game and hit two home runs with six RBI. One of her long balls was the second grand slam of her career. Hay also homered in the game to aid Missouri's offensive charge.
The series win over Tennessee pushed Mizzou across the SEC's regular season finish line with a third-place finish in the league's standings (15-8). The No. 3-seeded Tigers went right to work at the SEC Tournament with No. 6-seeded Arkansas, a team that Missouri needed to tag back from the Razorbacks' series win over the Tigers from April 12-14. Mizzou did just that, winning a five-inning, 8-0 game to move forward in the tournament. Roth homered in the game, while Crane, Marston, Randazzo, Sykes and Genovese all doubled.
The SEC Tournament semifinals (May 11) matched Mizzou against Tennessee once again, and the Tigers did not disappoint. Missouri beat the Lady Vols, 3-0, to improve to 3-1 on the season against UT, with the win including another Roth home run. Due to rain, the semifinal round was pushed back a day to May 11, the same day the championship game was slated for on ESPN. Thomas made an attempt at her second start in the same day, but was ineffective and made way for relief pitching in the 10-4 championship game setback against Florida. Roth hit her third home run of the tournament in the final, earning her a spot on the SEC's All-Tournament team with Thomas and Marston.
Mizzou's SEC Tournament run was what the NCAA Division I Softball Selection Committee needed to see, though, awarding the Tigers the No. 6 overall seed in the 2013 NCAA Division I Softball Championship. Hosting a regional in Columbia for the fifth-straight season, the Tigers won their first two games in the event, 3-0 over Stony Brook and 1-0 over Hofstra. The Pride fought back in the regional, even taking a game from the host Tigers to force a final, winner-take-all seventh game. Earleywine's squad had seen enough of Hofstra's standout pitcher Olivia Galati for the third matchup, racking up eight hits including two home runs (Roth, Hudson) in a 5-0 win.
The win in the Columbia Regional got Mizzou to its sixth-straight NCAA Super Regional, and for the fourth consecutive year as hosts. The Tigers were matched against the 11th-seeded Washington, a rematch of the 2011 Columbia Super Regional that helped the Tigers get to their third-straight Women's College World Series. Offensive struggles emerged again for the Tigers, stopping the squad from making the seventh WCWS appearance in program history. The Huskies topped Mizzou despite two valiant pitching efforts from Thomas, who surrendered just three runs over two setbacks, 2-1 and 1-0.
Although the season ended in the same fashion as Mizzou's 2012 season, the Tigers impressive streak of six consecutive Super Regionals is a streak only matched by Alabama and Arizona State. Missouri finished the season with a 38-14 record, losing 14 scheduled contests to weather-related conditions.
Thomas and company did not come up short in the postseason honors department, with Thomas earning her third First Team All-America recognition. She became just the second Tiger to become a three-time All-American, joining Rhea Taylor (2008, 10, 11).
Thomas and Marston earned First Team Academic All-America, with Marston picking up the first team recognition for the second-straight year to become the first-ever Tiger to do so. The duo also earned major SEC awards, as Thomas was named Pitcher of the Year and Marston took Scholar-Athlete of the Year. For Thomas, the honor was her third conference pitcher of the year award after twice earning the recognition in the Big 12 (2011, 12). Both were additionally First Team All-SEC picks, with Thomas also receiving a place on the SEC All-Defensive Team.
Earning All-Southeast Region recognition for the Tigers were Thomas and Marston, as well as Roth and Hudson.
Mizzou's 2014 team looks intimidating with eight returning starters, including Roth and Crane, who both played in every game of the 2013 season. The returning experience, addition of top-notch transfer Sami Fagan, as well as another highly regarded recruiting class should mean big things in the future for the Tigers.