Missouri blanks Hofstra for softball Regional title

Nicole Hudson high-fives a pair of Missouri teammates after hitting a two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning of Sunday’s second game against Hofstra in the NCAA Regionals in Columbia.

Nicole Hudson high-fives a pair of Missouri teammates after hitting a two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning of Sunday’s second game against Hofstra in the NCAA Regionals in Columbia. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA — It wasn’t the most direct route to a championship in the Columbia Regional, but the Missouri softball team will take it any way it can get it.

After getting blitzed by Hofstra 10-0 to start Sunday, forcing a second championship game, the Tigers came through in fine form later in the day, snagging the crown with a 5-0 victory.

In the do-or-die game later in the day, Chelsea Thomas was close to perfection. The senior improved to 24-4 on the year by twirling a one-hitter with no walks — a second-inning double by Jess Hirschbuhl was the lone blemish on her record — and striking out nine.

Olivia Galati, who pitched all five games for Hofstra in the regional — logging every one of the team’s 459 pitches thrown — was the loser. She gave up four earned runs on eight hits while striking out four.

“I know myself and our entire program respects Hofstra and what they did and what they do year in and year out,” Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. “In particular, their pitcher, Galati, we have the maximum amount of respect for her and that program.”

The Tigers (38-12) gambled by pitching Thomas — who has been battling numbness in her pitching hand — in just two of Missouri’s four games at the event. That meant sitting her in Sunday’s first game while Galati (40-12) worked for Hofstra (46-13).

“I felt like the difference (in the second game) was we just finally got enough looks at (Galati) and it was her fifth game and once we got a few runs, the rest was in Chelsea Thomas’ hands and we usually know how that ends.”

The win means the Tigers have captured their sixth consecutive Regional title. They will now host a Super Regional with Washington this coming weekend.

Missouri last hosted Washington in the 2011 Columbia Super Regional, earning 4-0 and 6-3 wins against the Huskies. Washington leads the all-time series between the schools by a 5-4 margin.

In Sunday’s deciding game, the Tigers took a 1-0 lead after one inning when Nicole Hudson doubled and scored on a single by Mackenzie Sykes.

Kelsea Roth added a solo home run in the second and the Tigers rounded out the scoring with a three-run fifth. Emily Crane scored the first of that frame when she doubled and later came home on an error. The next two came in on a homer by Hudson, which is the 46th of her career. That leaves her just one back of the school record held by Jen Bruck.

Hudson racked up two hits and two RBI, while Roth had two hits and one RBI.

In the first game of the day, Missouri managed a measly four hits against Galati, who struck out one and walked one. It was her 40th win of the season, which leads all of Division I. She also leads the country with 22 shutouts on the year.

Hudson (11-6) started and took the loss for the Tigers, giving up nine runs (three earned) on seven hits in two innings. Lindsey Muller gave up one earned run on two hits and one walk in the final two innings.

“We may be a mid-major school, but we play BCS softball,” Hofstra coach Bill Edwards said of his team’s play over the weekend. “We are right there, and we have been close.

“People in the softball community know all about Hofstra. They want to play us early in the year because we’re an indoor school from the northeast and we don’t have football facilities that a lot of the other schools have at practice. But nobody wants to play us late.”

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