COLUMBIA – Chelsea Thomas, who Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine said might be as good as anybody in the country this season, has yet to pitch an inning in Big 12 Conference play. Shana White, a regular in Missouri's starting lineup, missed her fourth-consecutive conference game. Senior Stacy Delaney started two Big 12 games in the same day for the first time and freshman Kristin Nottelman, who wasn't supposed to be in the circle this late into the season, won her ninth game.
But Missouri found a way to play its best games of the season in a sweep of Texas A&M on Saturday anyway, according to Earleywine.
"I’m most pleased that if I would look at lineups that I made two months ago, or even over the winter, and compared them to what I’m looking at now in the lineups, they’re vastly different," Earleywine said. "To have a lineup so different and still be able to be successful in the Big 12, I’m just pleased. You’ve got people like Marla Schweisberger, Megan Christopher, Gina Scheinder — people that you didn’t quote, end quote, "count on" at the beginning of the season — now here they are sweeping series against Texas A&M for us.”
In both games of the doubleheader at Univeristy Field, No. 11 Missouri dominated the No. 19 Aggies, who won the Big 12 regular season and tournament title, and appeared in its second consecutive College World Series a year ago. The Tigers run-ruled Texas A&M twice, winning 8-0 in five innings in Game 1 and 9-1 in five innings in Game 2.
Missouri improved to 33-5 this season and 6-2 in the Big 12, which is second best in the conference.
“It’s very important for us to sweep Texas A&M," Delaney said. "It just kind of gives us a confidence booster. Even though we do have those two losses, we’ve played very, very well. So, when we play very well, we can do a lot of things."
Delaney started both games on Saturday. She allowed just two hits and struck out six batters in five innings without giving up a walk in a shutout victory in game one and pitched two more scoreless innings in Game 2.
Thomas' injury, which Earleywine described as biceps tendon inflammation, will keep her from pitching for at least another week, which means Delaney will continue to spend more time in the circle.
“Knowing that she’s not being able to throw this much during Big 12 — It’s just kind of a senior leadership thing," Delaney said. "I’m going to do as well as I can to get us through it and to lead as a senior because I think that lends a lot of credibility to the (underclassmen) through Big 12.”
Schneider, who entered Saturday with a .356 batting average, went 0-for-3, but Schweisberger and Christopher both had big days. Christopher hit home runs in both games and had four RBIs, and Schweisberger's grand slam in the second inning of Game 2 gave the Tigers an insurmountable 7-0 lead.
All-Big 12 third baseman Lindsey Ubrun, one player Earleywine expected production from before the season started, went 4-for-6, including a two-run home run to end game one.
“I think everyone’s stepping up that was here last year because when we have that much success," Ubrun said. "You’ve been to a regional and a super regional and all that, it just adds confidence, and I think everyone is playing a little more confident this year than we were last year.”