Missouri will host NCAA regional softball tournament

Sunday, May 15, 2011 | 11:49 p.m. CDT; updated 12:23 a.m. CDT, Monday, May 16, 2011
Missouri senior outfielder Rhea Taylor watches the NCAA Division I Softball Selection Show during a watch party Sunday night at Clinton Club at Mizzou Arena.

COLUMBIA — Chairs were not overturned. Cheers were substantial, but not overwhelming. Mostly, it just wasn't much of a surprise. 

The No. 5 Missouri softball team gathered at the Clinton Club on Sunday night at Mizzou Arena, where it learned that for the third straight season it will host an NCAA Regional Tournament.

It was all but expected, even more so after becoming the outright Big 12 regular-season champions this weekend with two wins over Iowa State and a Texas loss to Baylor. 

But as soon as the brackets flashed up on ESPNU, coach Ehren Earleywine started thinking worst-case scenarios. 

"Every scanerio that could possibly put fear in my mind, I entertain those in my heart," Earleywine said. "If you don't have a certain amount of respect and fear, you're not going to prep."

And pitcher Chelsea Thomas said that preparation begins Monday, studying the other three teams in their bracket — Illinois State and Indiana and DePaul — starting with Illinois State who Missouri opens against on Friday. 

The Tigers faced Illinois State three times this year, dominating each game. Their bigger concern is the potential matchup with Indiana if they win Round 1. 

Indiana pitcher Morgan Melloh broke the Big 10 record for most strikeouts in a season, and now has 477.

"I saw them on TV the other night. That kid is for real," Earleywine said. "She has an explosive riseball. We're definitely going to have to show her some respect if we get the opportunity to play against her."

The Tigers advanced to the Women's College World Series the past two seasons, but Earleywine said this season is the first where they are expected advance to the event. In 2009, the Tigers upset No. 2 UCLA with a 9-1 win to advance to their first World Series in 14 years. Last season, MU advanced behind pitcher Kristin Nottelmann after beating Oregon 7-2.

"Year one we snuck in — we beat UCLA and shocked them. Year two we had Nottelmann so we didn't know," Earleywine said. "Now this year we're legit. We've got Chelsea. Everybody's healthy so we kind of expect it."

Maybe the biggest question the No. 6 Tigers had was why Texas, who fell to Baylor 2-1 on Sunday and finished second in the Big 12 standings, were ranked No. 4 ahead of them.

"It's fine even though we ended up being the best team in the Big 12," Earleywine said. "It's going to be a tough regional, but I like our draw and I'm glad we're at home."

Earleywine hopes the weather holds off for Saturday and fans come out. He also wouldn't mind a rainout, because the No. 1 seed in that round automatically advances. 

"We've got a bad forecast right now, but weathermen and umpires are always wrong, and they keep their jobs," Earleywine said. 

The Tigers are scheduled to play Illinois State at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at University Field. 

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