COLUMBIA — When her moment came, senior pitcher Nicole Hudson was ready.
With All-American ace Chelsea Thomas getting a rare day of rest, Hudson weaved together a dominating two-hit performance to lead the Missouri softball team to a 3-0 victory over America East champion Stony Brook in the opening round of the NCAA Columbia Regional on Friday at University Field.
Missouri (36-11) vs. Hofstra (44-11)
WHERE: University Field
WHAT'S AT STAKE: The winner moves on to play in Sunday's NCAA Columbia Regional final at University Field. The loser has to play again at 5 p.m. Saturday in an elimination game against the winner of Saturday's Oregon State vs. Stony Brook elimination matchup.
While Missouri's bats slumbered through the opening innings, Hudson kept her team in the game, allowing no hits through the first five frames with the help of shortstop Corrin Genovese's defensive wizardry.
The Tigers finally scored when center fielder Jenna Marston launched a three-run home run to right field in the bottom of the fifth to lend Hudson all the run support she would need.
Despite Hudson's brilliance, Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine still sent Thomas to warm up in the bullpen during the fifth inning.
"Not exactly happy about our performance," he said. "I told Chelsea that if it was a one-run game in the sixth and seventh, she was going out there. Then Jenna made it 3-0, and I left Nicole out there. If it had gotten to 3-2 or something, I would have brought Chelsea back out there."
Hudson was in command on the mound from the opening pitch, breezing through the opening innings and escaping a second-inning jam with runners on first and third, the only time Stony Brook advanced a runner to third base all game.
After Missouri shortstop Corrin Genovese made a spinning stab and threw out Bria Green at first base, Hudson pumped her fist and smiled, pointing toward the left side of her infield as the crowd roared its approval. Genovese's defense helped her pitcher calm down on the mound.
"They were great behind me," said Hudson about the infield defense. "It's just nice to go out there and have a full seven innings and feel confident."
After the game, Earlywine was visibly frustrated with his team's struggles at the plate.
Seawolves' starting pitcher Allison Cukrov allowed the Tigers just two hits, but walks from Rachel Hay and Emily Crane put two on when Marston came to the plate with the game still scoreless. Several fans stood up as soon as Marston made contact with a drop curve that had flattened out, watching the ball as it landed over the road beyond the right field fence.
The home run was the senior's first since 2011 and the team celebrated accordingly, coming out to greet Marston at home plate as Stony Brook's bench turned somber and silent.
"Cukrov threw me a pitch inside in the same spot she had thrown the pitch before," Marston said. "It's kind of embarrassing when the whole team has to run out there and meet you at home plate after (a home run)."
Missouri faces a short turnaround. The Tigers are set to return to University Field at noon Saturday for game against Hofstra, the winner of Friday's other regional game. The winner of that game advances to Sunday's NCAA Columbia Regional final, Earlywine confirmed that Thomas would be back on the mound ready to go.
"We're gonna have Chelsea on the mound tomorrow, and I think that does relax us," Genovese said. "We got the first one out of the way, and that's the hardest one, so now we can come out ready to go."