LEXINGTON, Ky. — After beating Tennessee 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference tournament Saturday, Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine knew exactly who to credit for the victory.
"It was Chelsea Thomas' day again," Earleywine said.
Missouri's ace threw seven scoreless innings against the SEC's top hitting team allowing five hits with nine strikeouts.
Fresh off a no-hitter against the Volunteers last Saturday in Columbia, Thomas felt pretty good in the conference semifinals at Kentucky University in Lexington.
"My stuff was working pretty well," Thomas said. "Had a little trouble with the change-up, but for the most part, everything was working pretty well."
Catcher Jenna Marston hit a double in the third inning to give Missouri a 2-0 lead and Kelsea Roth added a home run in sixth.
As soon as Roth made contact, she ran to first without looking up to see where the ball ended up. She knew it was gone.
"Definitely felt it off the bat," Roth said with a big smile.
Now, Missouri will play in the school's first SEC championship game in any sport.
"It's huge," Thomas said. "We would love to be the first SEC champions from Mizzou, and we're looking very good coming up for tonight."
Earleywine hasn't ruled out Thomas pitching in the title game, set for 7 p.m. CST Saturday, saying that it will be a game-time decision.
"She said she feels OK, and so I will need her to feel better than OK at game time," Earleywine said.
Missouri will face Florida, a team the Tigers haven't played a conference game against, but are familiar with. Earlier this season in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, Missouri and Florida squared of for 12 innings with the Tigers coming away with a 4-3 victory.
"It was an awesome game to watch," Earleywine said. "Win, lose or draw, it was championship softball at its finest."
Missouri lost to Florida in back-to-back Women's College World Series games in 2010 and 2011, and so winning that extra-inning game felt like redemption for the Tigers.
Earleywine said at the beginning of the season that winning the SEC tournament was not a goal. The bigger hope was to host one of the NCAA Super Regionals, something only the top eight teams get to do. Earleywine said he is feeling confident after beating Tennessee, the No. 4-ranked team in the country, three times in eight days.
"I think we're one of the best eight teams in the country," he said.