Who’s afraid of Chelsea Thomas?
Apparently not the Louisiana State University Tigers.
Thomas (26-8), the No. 9 Missouri Tigers’ redshirt junior ace who has asserted herself as one of the country’s most dominant forces on the mound, pitched only 4.1 innings in Saturday’s 6-1 loss to LSU in game one of the NCAA Super Regional round. She received the hook from coach Ehren Earleywine after allowing five earned runs, five hits, seven walks and two hit batters.
“I really can’t think back on a worse game for me,” said Thomas, the Big 12 Conference reigning Pitcher of the Year for two consecutive seasons. “It was just an off day. I struggled finding the strike zone and that’s what happened.”
She struggled from the start—allowing two runners aboard in the game’s first inning—but managed to avert any damage with the help of two strikeouts and a brilliant flip from junior third baseman Nicole Hudson to junior catcher Jenna Marston to tag a runner at the plate.
LSU jumped on the board in the top of the third when an Allison Falcon fly ball dropped in between freshman shortstop Corrin Genovese and sophomore center fielder MacKenzie Sykes. The bases-loaded hit drove in two runners for a 2-0 LSU lead.
The visiting Tigers blew the game open in the top of the fifth.
LSU loaded the bases with the first three batters before Thomas hit Falcon in the ankle and walked designated player Ashley Applegate to put LSU ahead 4-1.
After picking up her seventh strikeout of the contest, Thomas hit a second batter with the bases loaded, giving LSU a 5-1 lead and forcing Earleywine to pull his ace from the game.
It was an uncharacteristically poor performance from Thomas. She hadn’t allowed five runs since April 5 against Texas.
Earleywine chalked up Thomas’s off day to the sweltering heat on University Field. The temperature was recorded as 91 degrees at the first pitch.
“I think she overheated," he said. "I think that’s the hottest game that we’ve played in all year, and we were in the hottest dugout. You could see a distinct difference in her velocity and the location of her drop ball.”
In the other dugout, LSU pitcher Rachele Fico shut down Missouri’s offense, pitching seven strong innings and allowing only a single run. LSU’s top pitcher struck out five and walked two en route to her 19th victory of the season.
Missouri didn’t die softly, however; the team loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh before freshman first baseman Kelsea Roth tipped a ball into her face, knocking off her helmet and putting her on the ground for a few minutes before being helped off the field.
Roth displayed little to no concussion-like symptoms after the game, but her status is uncertain for Sunday’s contest, Earleywine said.
Missouri racked up eight hits against Fico but only plated one run.
“I think we were getting way better at bats later on," senior outfielder Ashley Fleming said. "We started getting a good idea of what pitches were coming. She’s a good pitcher, but if we come out tomorrow and hit the way that we can, I don't think she’ll keep us to one run again.”
The teams will square off again at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and will play again at 5 p.m. if necessary. Missouri needs to win both games if it wants to go to the Women’s College World Series for a fourth straight season.
Thomas said she would waste no time preparing for Sunday.
“I’m sure the coaches will watch (the film) and we’ll meet early tomorrow morning to watch it and figure out a game plan,” she said. “Looking at what I did tonight and adjusting for that tomorrow is going to be the key thing for me.”
There was unexpected optimism in her coach’s tone following the showing.
“I’m really confident that if we play like we’re capable of playing — not even great softball, but if we just play good softball — that I think we can have a really fun day tomorrow,” Earleywine said. “If (Thomas) pitches similar to what she’s capable of pitching, I like our chances tomorrow, I really do.”