COLUMBIA – The temperature was 45 degrees, but it felt like 85. The 1,540 fans Saturday at University Field were on their feet.
“C’mon Chelsea!” yelled players and fans, one by one.
Most of the Missouri softball players in the dugout leaned against the railing, with utility player Brianna Corwin standing in the opening. She couldn’t stand still. None of the players could. If their legs weren’t moving, their hands were, fidgeting as each pitch was thrown.
Ground out to short. One out.
The heartbeats sped up. Fans smiled at each other, thinking about what they were seeing.
Strikeout. The swinging kind that really showed how much Chelsea Thomas fooled the Tennessee batter. Two outs.
The Volunteers were down to their final out. But this was different than the usual final out. This one was special.
“Up! Up! Up!” the Missouri players shouted as they pointed to the ball in the air. But it was foul, and the at-bat and the game continued.
Another pitch, another few seconds of breath holding by most in attendance. Foul ball.
The count was full and Tennessee’s Melissa Davin was battling with multiple fouls. Finally, she hit it between the chalk lines. A ground ball to Missouri third baseman Princess Krebs. Her throw to Kelsea Roth at first got the needed out.
The crowd's cheers didn't disappoint.
Corwin led a charge of players from the dugout toward Thomas. The Tiger's fielders came from all directions to surround the senior ace. With a large smile, Corwin grabbed Thomas by both arms, congratulating her. One by one the players patted Thomas on the back.
She smiled as she heard the cheers from her teammates and the crowd, happy with a 2-0 win. But Thomas didn’t stop. She just walked to the dugout and into the locker room to think about what she just did to the No. 2 team in the country.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Thomas said. “It was a really fun night, and I’ll remember this night for a while.”
She allowed three base runners on walks, but no Tennessee batter reached base on a hit. Thomas now has 14 no-hitters, including four perfect games, in her five years at Missouri.
“That was awesome,” Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. “Never mind the no-hitter. I just felt like she pitched the smartest that she’s pitched all year.”
One hour before the first game began Saturday, Southeastern Conference officials decided to make up for Friday’s rained out game with a second game on Saturday night.
Game 2 was a completely different story for the Tigers; in fact, it was just about the complete opposite story.
Missouri pitcher Nicole Hudson’s bid for a no-hitter ended before it began. Hudson gave up the first Tennessee hit of the day to the first batter of Game 2.
The Tigers came away from the first two innings leading 1-0 after Mackenzie Sykes stole home, but Hudson couldn’t stop the Volunteers bats from breaking out. Seven hits – including two home runs – later, Missouri was down 6-1.
Lindsey Muller came in to relieve Hudson in the fifth, but she wasn’t much better, surrendering four runs in her one inning of work, to make the score 10-1 Tennessee.
The eight-run deficit led to a five-inning Tiger loss, and Missouri was run-ruled by Tennessee.
But the pain of the second game couldn’t eliminate any joy from the first.
“Unfortunately, that game kind of served as a sacrificial lamb, just got to play it, but it does not take away, to me, it was just an awesome first game,” Earleywine said.
Tennessee (43-8, 16-5 SEC) will take on Missouri (32-10, 14-8 SEC) at noon Sunday for not only the rubber match of the series but also the final regular season game for both teams.
“It’s a pretty big game for us, like all of them will be from here on out, so we’re excited,” Thomas said.
Earleywine said his starting pitcher Sunday will depend on how Thomas feels when she wakes up, but if you ask the ace if she will pitch, she’ll offer only three words.
“I hope so.”
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.