COLUMBIA — In the past two weeks, there has not been much suspense at Missouri softball games. When the offense has struggled, the pitching has stayed consistent and runs scored against the Tigers have been as rare as finding a 20 dollar bill on the street.
In Wednesday's doubleheader against Wichita State at University Field, Missouri's pitchers continued to dominate. The team only gave up one run in two games and only allowed five hits in a 8-0 six-inning victory in Game 1 and a 6-1 victory in Game 2.
Missouri ace Chelsea Thomas stymied Wichita State's hitters, who clearly had trouble keeping up with the velocity of her pitches, and Thomas got 12 strikeouts to bring her total to 100 for the season. After several batters stuck out, they walked back to the dugout with confused looks on their faces.
Earleywine said Thomas has a sore arm and they have kept her pitch count low the past nine games. He made it clear he will depend on Thomas to pitch a lot in Big 12 Conference games and in the postseason.
"Chelsea wasn't nearly as good last year, as she is this year," Earleywine said. "When you get to the World Series and the Super Regionals you can ride your stud ace pitcher. She just needs to be more efficient with her pitches and throw more strikes."
Missouri pitchers Jana Hainey and Kristin Nottelmann have added depth to the pitching staff and given Thomas' arm a rest. Nottelmann has emerged as the Tigers' No. 2 starter and Hainey is a relief pitcher. Nottelmann and Hainey combined to pitch 7 1/3 innings allowing one run and three hits and striking out nine hitters. Earleywine said all three of his pitchers have done well lately, but their control was an issue Wednesday.
"Their velocity was good and their movement was good," Earleywine said. "We were behind in the count too many times. They just need to be more aggressive."
If Thomas struggles in games later in the season he said he would depend on Nottelmann to come in and be the primary pitcher. But in the late innings, he said he can count on Hainey. As the Tigers' closer and she specializes in getting left-handed hitters out.
"She is really good in short spurts, so she fits the role of our closer," Earleywine said. "We are in a good position pitching wise."
Hainey said she enjoys her role. Before Hainey pitches, she said she has to brace herself. She takes a deep breath before her windup, then when she throws the ball, she let's out a high-pitched grunt like someone lifting something heavy.
I tend to hold my breath a little bit when I'm out there," Hainey said laughing. "It's just my way of breathing. I've done pretty good so far, but I still have a lot of things to work on."
The Tigers came into Wednesday with a .231 team ERA and have held opponents to a .189 batting average (third in the Big 12). In the past nine games, the Tigers have allowed six runs and shut out six teams. Missouri assistant softball coach Pete D'Amour has been impressed with the way the pitchers performed against top 25 teams and their ability to shut out teams that are not as good.
"We are doing a good job being consistant and getting first-pitch strikes," D'Amour said. "They just don't give the other teams free outs."
The offense provided plenty of support for the Tigers on Wednesday. Sophomore Ashley Fleming went 4-for-6 and got seven RBIs, including two home runs. All-American Rhea Taylor also did her part, going 4-for-6 with a triple and two runs scored.
The Tigers will host the Demarini Invitational on Friday where they will play five games in three days. The team will play Northern Colorado at 3 p.m. and Ball State at 5 p.m. Friday at University Field.