After an unexpected twist of fate last weekend, the No. 9 Missouri softball team now finds itself in the driver’s seat for the NCAA Super Regionals.
When the LSU Tigers upended the No. 8 Texas A&M Aggies in the College Station Regional, the surprise upset put the next round in Columbia, where Missouri is 17-1 in postseason play under coach Ehren Earleywine.
With a win in the super regionals, Missouri would advance to its fourth consecutive Women’s College World Series.
“I’m really excited,” redshirt junior pitcher Chelsea Thomas said. “We have so many great fans here and to be in this atmosphere — there’s nothing like it. I’m really excited to have LSU come here.”
The Missouri Tigers hope to dominate their future Southeastern Conference foe from the pitcher's circle. Thomas, the Big 12 Conference’s Pitcher of the Year for the second straight season, went 26-7 this year with a 1.00 ERA, making her third in the nation.
LSU has lacked offensive firepower at the plate. As a team, the LSU Tigers only batted .220, and their offensive leader is senior Ashley Langoni, who led the team with a .270 batting average, six home runs and 29 RBIs. Missouri had five players this season with a higher batting average and four with more home runs than Langoni.
LSU cranked 13 homers this season. Missouri senior outfielder Ashley Fleming had 16 on her own.
Perhaps LSU has been anemic from an offensive standpoint, but it does feature one of the nation’s best one-two punches on the mound.
Junior Rachele Fico (18-11) pitched 206.1 innings this season and was just ahead of Thomas with a 0.92 ERA. Last weekend, Fico threw a complete game, shutting out Texas State University before throwing seven shutout innings the next day against Texas A&M.
Senior Brittany Mack (15-11), LSU's other pitching option, shut down the Aggies in the regional round, allowing only one earned run in seven innings to clinch the series for LSU.
Missouri’s 10 freshmen are going to be crucial in order to earn a spot in the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla., junior catcher Jenna Marston said.
“Probably half of our lineup is freshman,” Marston said. “At the beginning of the year, I think a lot of them were pretty nervous and you could tell they weren’t comfortable out there. Playing in the Big 12, you’re playing a lot of good teams and good pitching so it prepares us for the postseason.”
The difference between winning a few games and competing for a national title will be determined by offense, Earleywine said.
“If we keep doing what we’re doing pitching and defense-wise, we’re at least going to be in every game,” he said. “Are we going to be in every game and maybe get knocked out in (the super regionals), or maybe a game or two into the World Series, or do we turn it on offensively, score three or four runs a game, and now we make a serious run at a national championship?”
Missouri and LSU will face off at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at University Field. Game two will be at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, and if necessary, the deciding third game will be played at 5 p.m. Sunday.