Tennessee-Missouri softball, May 11, 2013
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Some day folks might claim that Chelsea Thomas made Missouri “the Show-Me state.”
For a second weekend in a row, Thomas showed Tennessee something Saturday, pitching Missouri to a 3-0 victory over the Lady Vols in SEC softball tournament semifinals at John Cropp Stadium.
The win put Missouri into Saturday night’s SEC championship game against top-seed Florida, a 9-5 semifinal winner over Georgia.
Thomas, who no-hit Tennesee last weekend, blanked the Lady Vols on five hits this time. The SEC pitcher of the year struck out nine and didn’t walk a batter.
“It was Chelsea Thomas Day again,” said Ehren Earleywine, coach of the third-seeded Tigers (35-10). “That’s 14 innings against the best hitting team in the conference and, potentially, one of the best hitting teams in the country and she hasn’t given up a run to them.”
The right-hander (22-4) retired the first five batters she faced. Cheyanne Tarango then ended any thoughts of another no-hitter with a solid single through the left side.
Rainey Gaffin, who finished with two of Tennessee’s five hits, followed with an infield single. The Lady Vols couldn’t get the timely hit to score a run, though.
Second-seeded UT (44-10) got a solid effort by right-hander Ivy Renfroe.
Jenna Marston’s two-run double in the third inning gave Thomas all the support she needed.
Kelsea Roth added a home run off the left-field scoreboard to lead off the sixth inning.
“I’ve got to give credit
to Missouri,” UT co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “We were scooting along 15-3, until last Saturday, in the SEC — and we played Alabama, Florida and all those teams. And we ran into Chelsea Thomas twice, and we didn’t score on her either one. I think, right now, she’s the best pitcher I’ve seen in the last two years.”
Thomas threw an even 100 pitches, 66 for strikes, and seemed to get stronger as the game went on.
“I had a little bit of trouble with my change-up but, for the most part, it was working pretty well,” the senior said. “I kind of found my low rise in the later innings. And when my low rise gets better, my drop gets better.”
“I’m glad that we improved from the last time we faced her,” said Lady Vols leadoff hitter Raven Chavanne, who went 1-for-3. “We didn’t get that key hit to score those runs, but you can only move forward from here.”
Thomas’ counterpart, Renfroe, threw 115 pitches, 79 for strikes. Save for two run-scoring swings, she might have won.
“Not good pitches,” Renfroe said of the double and homer. “I know the home run wasn’t a good pitch. But she did a good job of taking it out, keeping her hands through, following through on the pitch.”
Mark Maloney is a freelance contributor.