COLUMBIA — To those planning to follow Saturday’s softball game between Missouri and Hofstra in the NCAA Columbia Regional, a word of advice.
Expect a lot of swings and misses.
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.
It will be a matchup of two of the nation’s premiere pitchers, Missouri's Chelsea Thomas and Hofstra’s Olivia Galati. That’s a combined 22 career no-hitters and eight perfect games going head to head for a shot at the College World Series.
“It’ll be a great matchup between these two,” Hofstra coach Bill Edwards said. “Of course, Chelsea goes to a whole other level. That’ll be a big challenge for us.”
First, their credentials.
Thomas is a two-time First Team All-American, the ace who led Missouri to College World Series appearances in 2009 and 2011. Her 1.23 earned run average led the Southeastern Conference this season. Most recently, she no-hit No. 4 ranked Tennessee on May 4.
But perhaps the only pitcher in the country who can compare her career with Thomas’ is Galati. The Hofstra ace is the active NCAA Division I leader in career wins (127), complete games (134), shutouts (64). Her five perfect games are tied for the most ever in NCAA competition, and in 2012 she was named Hofstra’s first ever First Team All-American.
“I’m excited for it,” said Galati, who made it clear that it would take more than stats and reputation to intimidate her. “A name is a name, a school is a school. We just need to play to our standard. In order to be named the best, you need to beat the best.”
Both Galati and Thomas do it with heat. They are imposing in the circle, pitchers who like to fire it in there and finish what they started every time a new batter comes up.
This mentality, partnered consistently with 70-mph fastballs, has resulted in mounds and mounds of strikeouts. Galati’s five strikeouts on Friday in a 2-0 victory over Oregon State brought her season total to 374, good for first in the nation and a whopping 30 more than the next pitcher on the list. She has struck out more than 300 batters in each of the past three seasons.
Missouri is aware of Galati, and of the matchup that looms.
“We know she’s good,” Tigers shortstop Corrin Genovese said. “She’s shut down everybody for the past couple years, and we watched her last year in the Super Regionals. We know she can give us one of her best games.”
Usually outspoken Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine was uncharacteristically quiet when he was asked about Galati, offering just this:
“Great rise ball pitcher, great change up, and that’s enough right there.”
Then there is Thomas. She has two career 300-strikeout seasons (including 397 in 2011) and 1,147 strikeouts total since 2009. Every last one of those has come as a member of either the Big 12 or the Southeastern Conference.
Hofstra competes in the Colonial Athletic Association, a far cry from a softball powerhouse conference. But the Pride have won 45 games this year, and Edwards is confident that Hofstra’s personnel and the strength of schedule put it on the same level as Missouri.
He said the pitching Friday from Oregon State was comparable to what his team has seen back east and early in the season, when it played Arkansas and other top teams.
But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Edwards said he and his players don’t focus on the name on the opponent’s jersey.
“Bazooka State — that’s who we play every time we step on the field,” he said referring to a school that doesn’t exist. “Bazooka State. We don’t care if its the SEC, Pac-12, we don’t care. It’s Bazooka State. If we play to our standard, we don’t care what's over there.”
“When you have Olivia Galati on the mound for ya,” he said. “You always got a shot.”