Thomas' perfect game is first in nine years for MU softball team

Wednesday, March 2, 2011 | 8:39 p.m. CST; updated 6:34 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 9, 2011
Missouri senior Rhea Taylor hits during the first game of a doubleheader against Drake on Wednesday at University Field. Taylor scored two runs in the first game and had four RBIs in the second one.

COLUMBIA – Pitcher Chelsea Thomas picked up her first win of the 2011 softball season in impressive fashion — throwing the first perfect game in nine years at MU. The effort earned the No. 17 Tigers (7-3) a 5-0 victory over Drake (6-5).

Thomas struck out 11 batters in Missouri’s first home game of the year, recording the first perfect game for the Tigers since Ingrid Werner threw one against Rhode Island in February 2002 in five innings.

“I wasn’t even paying attention, I didn’t even know it was happening,” Thomas said of the perfect game. “I’ve been trying to work on this one-pitch-at-a-time idea for me, and that’s how I try to get through each game. So I was taking it one pitch at a time, and after the last pitch, Lisa (Simmons) ran up to me and was like, ‘You just threw a perfect game.’”

Not only did Thomas throw a perfect game, but she did something else on the mound that coach Ehren Earleywine said he had never seen done in person.

“She popped the one pitch 75 (mph),” he said. “Your eyes fall out of your head. That’d be like a baseball pitcher throwing 105.”

Thomas’ performance was all the more impressive because it was just the third game she has pitched since suffering a season-ending injury in March 2010.  Even Earleywine was surprised to see her throwing so fast.

“That was one of our concerns, was her velocity because in rehabbing she was only (throwing) 62, 65, around there and tonight she hit 70 (mph) 10 or more times.”

While Thomas was winless heading into this game, she was impressive in her first two starts, giving up three hits and one unearned run to then-No. 15 California and giving up six hits and three runs to then-No. 2 Alabama.

“Here’s a kid who holds a Pac 10 team to 1-0, and if we make a couple plays in the outfield against ‘Bama it’s 1-1 and here she is 0-2,” Earleywine said. “And there’s no pitcher in the country I’d rather have than Chelsea Thomas and she’s 0-2. So I’m just happy to see her get a win.”

Against Drake, Thomas finally got what had been missing in her two previous starts — some help from the Missouri offense, which produced five runs.

Senior Rhea Taylor accounted for four of those runs. She hit a grand slam in the bottom of the fourth inning to put the Tigers up 4-0. Nicole Hudson added the fifth run for Missouri with a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth.

“In games like this it’s easy to be like, ‘Oh we’re just playing Drake. I’m just going to start taking some hacks,’” Taylor said. “That can get you in a lot of trouble, so just taking our time and being patient, that’s what got us our hits.”

Drake turned things around at the start of the second game, scoring one run in the first inning to grab its first lead of the day. It didn’t last long, though, as MU freshman Maddison Ruggeberg drove in Taylor in the bottom of the third inning to tie the game. An inning later, Missouri got three more runs, all of them unearned.

The Tigers added another run in the bottom of the fifth and three more in the sixth to get an 8-1 win. Pitcher Kristin Nottelmann didn’t allow another run after the first inning.

Missouri heads to St. Louis for the Missouri Breast Cancer Awareness Tournament this weekend. The Tigers’ first game is against Southeast Missouri State University on Friday.

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