COLUMBIA – Her eyes lit up and her smile was all teeth.
“That’s Chelsea Thomas?” a girl asked in excitement.
This weekend at University Field
Game 1: Oregon State vs. Hofstra, 4 p.m.
Game 2: Missouri vs. Stony Brook, 6:30 p.m.
Game 3: winner Game 1 vs. winner Game 2, noon
Game 4: loser Game 1 vs. loser Game 2 (loser eliminated), 2:30 p.m.
Game 5: loser Game 3 vs. winner Game 4 (loser eliminated), 5 p.m.
Game 6: winner Game 3 vs. winner Game 5, 1 p.m.
Game 7: (if necessary), 3:30 p.m.
“It sure is,” former Missouri softball player Ashley Fleming said in reply.
From table to table, excitement and anxiety grew. Players, fans and coaches mingled with smiles on their faces.
Across the room from the young fan, Thomas and the rest of the Missouri softball team prepared to find out if they were going to receive a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament.
In the time leading up to the selection show, some players tried to keep it light by laughing with each other and tweeting. Others, like senior Rachel Hay, sat quietly, biting her nails.
Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine talked with fans, politely nodding his head at their seeding predictions. But it didn’t matter what the fans thought the seedings would be. It didn’t even matter what Earleywine — a coach who is regarded by his peers as one of the smartest in the country — thought would happen. All that mattered was what the NCAA committee thought.
Two minutes before the show was about to begin, all the players, coaches and fans lowered their voices to a murmur. The ESPNU theme music began to play, and all faces turned to the TVs in the Clinton Club of Mizzou Arena.
Oklahoma was announced, then Florida, then Oregon. The room was silent; everyone just stared at the TV, wondering when Missouri would be said.
“I’m so nervous right now,” pitcher Thomas said to her battery mate, Jenna Marston.
Missouri was going to make the tournament, the question was: Will Missouri have an opportunity to host a super regional?
Then, the announcers got to the No. 6 seed and video clips of the Tigers were shown. Utility player Brianna Corwin stood up in excitement and pumped both fists in the air. Players and fans clapped and cheered in celebration and relief.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Marston said. “I thought we deserved it, but it was a little bit of a surprise."
Missouri now will get to host the NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals, if it advances, beginning Friday at University Field.
Joining Missouri in Columbia will be Stony Brook, Hofstra and Oregon State. The Tigers will take on the Seawolves at 6:30 p.m. Friday. As for who will start for Missouri — Thomas or the often times shaky No. 2 pitcher Nicole Hudson — that is still up in the air.
“The big question now is, can we throw Hudson on Friday?” Earleywine said. “I won’t know that until Thursday.”
After the room had mostly cleared, a few of the players joked with Earleywine, Fleming and graduate assistant Lisa Henning.
They were going to play at home for two more weekends. They could relax now. For the night at least.
"Got what we deserved, and that's rare here at Missouri," Earleywine said. "I'm glad they made the right choice."
For the entire NCAA Softball Tournament bracket, go to ncaa.com