Thomas leads the way for Missouri softball

The sophomore pitcher returned this season with an expanded repertoire.
Katie Prince / Graphic Designer

After helping lead the Missouri softball team to a school record 50-win season last year, sophomore pitcher Chelsea Thomas started off the new season with a bang.

Thomas (2-0) earned victories in both Missouri wins over then-No. 2 Alabama last weekend. In her first appearance of the season, she overpowered Alabama's hitters, striking out 11 and taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Thomas notched her first complete game of the season, allowing only one run on two hits.

After sophomore Kristin Nottelmann suffered the loss in game two, Thomas again overwhelmed the Crimson Tide in game three. Thomas threw all five innings, surrendering two hits and zero runs while striking out 12 in the 9-0 rout.

The run-rule was in effect due to the nine-run lead, shortening the game to five innings. The loss marks the only time the Crimson Tide have ever been run-ruled at home.

Missouri looks to Thomas to lead them throughout the year. After suffering the final loss in the College World Series to Georgia last year, Thomas is looking to come back better then ever.

With a year of experience under her belt and a whole offseason of training, coach Ehren Earleywine feels the sky is the limit for his young pitcher.

"Chelsea's added two pitches to her repertoire, the rise ball and a changeup," Earleywine said. "Last year she was 95 percent drop, and she was very effective and successful with that, but now with two other pitches she shut down the No. 2 team in the country twice, and she's only going to get better."

Assistant coach Pete D'Amour, head of a pitching staff that had a conference-leading 1.47 combined ERA last year, also said Thomas' progress in the offseason will shine through this year.

"Our goals last year were to win the Big 12, the Big 12 Tournament and to make the CWS, and we did all of those," D'Amour said. "Chelsea got there with only one pitch, and it's hard to imagine what she will be like with two or three pitches."

After being thrust into a large role as a freshman, Thomas compiled a 16-7 record with a 1.65 ERA. Last season was a learning experience, and Thomas made some key observations that led to the new pitches in her arsenal.

"I realized that my speed wasn't as overpowering as it was in high school, and I learned that I needed a couple of other pitches," Thomas said. "With all the great hitters I was facing, I couldn't get by with just a drop ball."

This year, the spotlight is shining brighter on Thomas and the rest of the Tigers. After being ranked ninth in the preseason poll, Missouri soared to the No. 6 spot in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 poll this week. But Thomas and the rest of the Tigers are not feeling the added pressure.

"I think the ranking is helping our confidence a lot more," Thomas said. "When we step out on the field, our team is intimidating to whoever we face, and I think that the growth in confidence is going to really help us out throughout the season."

The Tigers look to continue their winning ways at No. 2 Arizona this weekend in a three-game series.

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