LSU offense comes alive to beat Missouri, 6-1
COLUMBIA, Mo. — LSU’s Allison Falcon said it was her team’s loud dugout chants.
Her coach, Beth Torina, thinks it was a well-executed game plan.
Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine believes it was the intense heat.
Whatever the reason, Mizzou ace Chelsea Thomas, who was expected to dominate LSU’s weak offense, fell far short of her usual dominant self, turning in a sloppy performance that all but handed LSU a 6-1 win in the super regional opener.
In just 4.1 innings, Thomas tied a season high with six walks, hit two and gave up five runs — certainly not the kind of outing that Earleywine expected from his star.
“Chelsea has carried our water for three years, and she had an off night,” Earleywine said. “Interestingly enough, for her to have an off night, they hit one ball on the barrel against her. If she pitches similar to what she’s capable of, I like our chances (Sunday). I really do.”
LSU didn’t hit Thomas hard, but they didn’t have to.
All it took was standing still and trotting around the bases, particularly in the three-run fifth when Thomas let in the runs on a walk and two hit batters.
That ended her day, spoiling what was expected to be an all-night pitching duel with LSU’s Rachele Fico, who earned the win after going the distance and allowing one run on eight hits and two walks.
“I still expect more from myself, and I would like to be a little bit sharper,” Fico said. The great thing about this sport is that I have a great team behind me. They played great defense, and they got it done for me.”
Fico’s day was relatively uneventful. She navigated through a few jams and didn’t give up any freebies. Her lone blemish came in the fourth, when Missouri brought one across after Kayla Kingsley beat Fico’s throw to first on a two-out RBI swinging bunt.
Fico slipped out of testy situations in the third and fifth with groundouts, and she escaped the sixth thanks to a double play. She then finished the game with a groundout that ruined MU’s bases-loaded opportunity.
Thomas looked shaky from the get-go, needing a sharp glove-handed flip from third baseman Nicole Hudson to nail LSU’s A.J. Andrews at the plate and keep the game scoreless.
But there were more opportunities on the way.
In the third, Andrews followed a walk with a single up the middle, and Falcon dropped a bloop single between four MU players in center field to score two runs.
Then the wheels came off for Thomas in the fifth.
She walked Simone Heyward, gave up a hard-hit single to Ashley Langoni, and Juliana Santos reached on a swinging bunt after MU second baseman Ashtin Stephens didn’t cover first base in time.
What followed can only be described as an implosion.
Thomas hit Falcon on the right ankle, then walked Ashley Applegate, struck out Tammy Wray and plunked Morgan Russell to make it 5-1.
Earleywine pulled her, bringing on Kristin Nottleman, who last saw action on May 5.
Nottleman was more controlled, but also easier to hit.
In the seventh, LSU brought another run across when pinch-hitter Cassie Trosclair slammed a triple into the gap in right-center, then Santos followed with a double off the left field wall.
By the end of the game, the purple-clad fans that lined the first three rows on the first base line were rocking, while holes could be spotted in what was once a solid wall of yellow and black shirts throughout the rest of the stands.
It was a surprising outcome, especially considering that LSU finished sixth in the Southeastern Conference and lost eight of 10 before the NCAA tournament.
Now, Torina’s squad is just one win from the WCWS, but there’s little doubt that Sunday will be tougher, and that Thomas will be better.
But LSU’s offense, which came in ranked No. 218 in scoring, has something it hasn’t had for a while: confidence.
“I understand how talented (Thomas) is, and I expect her to have a much better performance tomorrow,” Torina said. “I do think you have to credit our kids somewhat with being very disciplined at the plate. That was a big part of our plan, to be disciplined and challenge her to come into the zone. I think some of the credit has to go to our offense tonight.”