COLUMBIA — It's a perverse sort of torture, having to watch another team celebrate its Women's College World Series berth on your own home field, in front of nearly 1,500 of your fans, friends and family.
It is nothing short of agonizing.
Freshmen Corrin Genovese and Kayla Kingsley were the only two Missouri batters to get hits against LSU's Rachele Fico in Game 3. Fico did not walk a batter.
Freshman Bailey Erwin gained the first super regional experience of her career by relieving Thomas in Game 2 and then in Game 3, when she threw three innings of shutout softball while conceding no hits and no walks.
Missouri's only run of Game 3 was scored by Kingsley on a bunt single off the bat of sophomore Mackenzie Sykes in the third inning. Missouri proceeded to load the bases for Ashley Fleming who hit a bullet to center field. LSU defender Simone Heyward caught the call and threw out a tagging Genovese at home to end the inning.
But it was something the Missouri softball team was forced to endure Sunday night at University Field.
After making a valiant 12-inning stand in a must-win Game 2 earlier Sunday afternoon, Missouri could not muster a repeat performance in the third and final game of the Columbia super regional series against LSU. Missouri fell 3-1 and was eliminated from this season's NCAA Tournament.
Missouri players and coaches stood in and around the first base dugout watching LSU pummel each other in celebration. Then they were forced to wait to shake hands with their victorious opponents and tearfully leave University Field as members of the 2012 Missouri Tigers for the last time.
As LSU lined up arm-in-arm across the infield to sing its fight song to a host of purple-and-yellow clad fans lining the third-base bleachers, it was difficult not to think that Missouri junior ace Chelsea Thomas, who has carried her team all season, deserved a better end than the one she labored through Sunday. But she just wasn't herself in the final game.
And it was understandable. She had just pitched 15 1/3 innings in less than 24 hours including 11 in the first game on Sunday, but despite saying she felt strong heading into Game 3, she did not look like the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year.
The third inning, Thomas' 14th of the day, was when the pitching phenom began to fade. She walked the first batter of the inning, beaned the second, conceded another walk to the fourth, and by the time she knew it, the bases were loaded with just one out for No. 2 LSU hitter Simone Heyward.
Heyward, a slap hitter, proceeded to stroke a two-strike line drive between Missouri's outfielders who were playing in. The ball rolled all the way to the left-center field wall, and all three LSU runners crossed the plate.
That was it. That was the game. And that third inning was Thomas' last of the season. She was relieved by freshman Bailey Erwin at the start of the fourth.
When asked to talk about the decisive third inning, the red-eyed Thomas declined.
Her coach, Ehren Earleywine said he doesn't regret sending out Thomas to begin the final game.
"If you're coaching that team, you just say you're going to throw her until she can't throw anymore," Earleywine said after the game. "It's what you got to do. It's just what you have to do.
"She threw good. I'm proud of her. You know, in all honestly, she didn't throw her best again, but as I told you all last night, even if she just threw average, she would give LSU all they wanted, and she did just that."
Missouri's offense provided Thomas with little support. Missouri scored its first and only run of the game in the top half of the third inning and could not force another run across the plate the rest of the game, getting shut down for a second consecutive day by LSU pitcher Rachele Fico.
It was a frustrating end to a frustrating season, especially offensively.
"It's extremely frustrating because the plan is a good plan. They just didn't execute," Earleywine said of his young and inconsistent offense. "The same hitters swung at the same pitches over and over and over through the course of the day, and that was the difference to me. There were very little adjustments made."
Now, there are none left to be made. Missouri's season came to an abrupt end, and for the first time in four years, Missouri will be watching the Women's College World Series from home.
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.