COLUMBIA — In Friday's game against Saint Louis University, Missouri softball pitcher Chelsea Thomas seemed like a Major League pitcher throwing against a high school lineup. The Saint Louis hitters had a hard time keeping up with the velocity of her pitches and were fooled when she would throw a change up. Saint Louis (4-6) would only manage to hit one ball out of the infield the entire game.
Thomas faced 21 batters, the minimum in a softball game, and threw a complete game no-hitter in No. 3 Missouri's (9-2) home opener to defeat Saint Louis 6-0 in the Breast Cancer Awareness Tournament at University Field. Thomas walked one batter and stuck out nine in the victory.
Missouri vs. Saint Louis
Afterward, the Tigers just acted like it was another game. They calmly walked out and shook hands with the Saint Louis players, not celebrating the sophomore pitcher's third no-hitter of her collegiate career.
After throwing a no-hitter, Thomas was sure to be ecstatic about the way she pitched, right?
"Actually it was an off day for me," Thomas said. "I did not throw the ball that well — my location was off. I was disappointed."
What she said was true against the first batter she faced. Her first two pitches were way out of the strike zone, and one of them forced Missouri catcher Megan Christopher to jump and catch the pitch. In that at-bat Thomas ended up walking the batter, which was the difference between a no-hitter and a perfect game. After Thomas issued the walk, Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine threw his clipboard on the ground, clearly showing his frustration.
"She throws hard, but she still needs to learn to locate her pitches," Earleywine said. "I don't think she has hit her ceiling yet. When she learns to control her pitches I don't think there will be anyone better than her."
Thomas utilizes three pitches: the rise ball, drop ball and change up. The drop ball is her primary pitch and she looks to her other two pitches to get the final strike. Her fastest pitches top out at 74 mph, which is equivalent to a baseball player throwing more than 100 mph. Earleywine admitted that it must be intimidating for the other hitters to face Thomas.
"One of the Saint Louis players got hit in the hand by one of those pitches. If it were me hitting I would have handed the bat to someone else and said, "'Why don't you try?'" Earleywine joked.
Her ability to throw hard and keep the Saint Louis batters guessing made Earleywine confident that the Tigers wouldn't need to score much to win.
"I knew they weren't going to get more than three runs off of her (Thomas)," Earleywine said.
The Tigers lineup gave Thomas more than enough run support to help her get the victory. In the first inning with two runners on base, Missouri junior Marla Schweisberger blasted the ball over right-center field, which ended up making it all the way to A.L. Gustin Golf Course. The three-run home run gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead.
Before the game, Earleywine was displeased with the Missouri offense and said they had trouble making contact with the ball. On Friday he had a different outlook.
"We earned our six runs we scored today," Earleywine said. "I was proud how hard we hit the ball."
The Tigers would score three more runs in the sixth of an RBI single by freshman Nicole Hudson and an error by Saint Louis that scored two runs.
Junior Rhea Taylor had a solid performance. She went 1-for-2, which included a walk, two runs scored and two stolen bases. She has 102 stolen bases in her three years at Missouri, and it brings her within eight of the school record held by Julie Link, who played from '86 to '89.
Missouri will play two more games Saturday in the Breast Cancer Awareness Tournament. The Tigers face Southeast Missouri State at 1:30 p.m. and Missouri State at 5:30 p.m.
Even being upset with Thomas' pitching at the beginning, Earleywine still has a lot of confidence in his ace pitcher.
"I think she is one of the top three pitchers in the nation," Earleywine said. "She can only get better."