(Sam Gause photo via MUtigers.com)
Four things for today's huge Memorial Day Sunday...
1. Mizzou Softball Is One Win Away From The Women's College World Series
MUtigers.com: Tigers, Thomas Shut Out Huskies in Game One
The Trib: Missouri softball team beats Washington
The Missourian: Missouri softball team one win away from Women's College World Series
The Missourian: 'Zou Bus' rolls into NCAA softball Super Regionals
KC Star: Thomas, Hudson bring Mizzou softball team to brink of World Series
Post-Dispatch: Missouri shuts out Washington on Thomas' pitching
PowerMizzou: One win away
KBIA Sports Extra: Chelsea Thomas returns to dominance, gets Mizzou one game closer to World Series
At some point, you run out of superlatives. After a dominant season that saw her named as one of three finalists for, basically, Softball's Heisman Trophy, Chelsea Thomas began to look like she might be running out of gas last weekend, misplacing some pitches against DePaul (granted, while allowing only two runs in 11 innings) ... and she responded by winning twice last Sunday, pitching a no-hitter in the regional-clinching game, and then shutting out a dangerous Washington squad last night. The more important the game, the more disgusting her changeup becomes, and though Washington was starting to get a smidge more comfortable facing her as the game progressed (there was nowhere to go but up after she completely emasculated them the first time through the order), you have to like Mizzou's chances at this point. Against DePaul last weekend, we learned that being down a game is still a pretty good place to be when you've got Chelsea Thomas on your side. Being up a game is even better. To win this series, Washington now must get to Thomas more than Mizzou gets to their pitcher ... then they must do it again. Anything's possible, but I like where we stand.
One more thing: Nicole Hudson is incredible. The Webb City product watched her father's businesses get blown away last Sunday evening, went through a week of Joplin stories that hit a lot closer to home for her than most ... and then went out and played a nearly perfect game. She smoked a double to left center in the first to set up Ashley Fleming's RBI groundout; then in the third, she fought off some great pitches until she got the one she wanted, and on a 3-2 count, she hit a ball that might have been a home run on a baseball field. She worked a walk in the fifth, made a couple of nice plays in the field, and was just generally awesome. She's got the most effortless swing you've ever seen -- no huge windup, no huge step, just a small step and a compact swing, and the ball just explodes off of her bat -- and as with Chelsea Thomas and Jenna Marston, Mizzou's got her for two more years.
Okay, one more thought: wow, Big 12. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, against whom Mizzou went 4-0 this year, qualified for the WCWS yesterday, and Missouri and Baylor are each one tough win away from joining them. Considering there are only eight teams in the WCWS, I would say the conference has represented itself rather well so far, wouldn't you?
2. Mizzou Baseball Is One Win Away From The NCAA Tournament
MUtigers.com: Tigers to Play for Big 12 Title
SimmonsField.com: Big 12 Tournament: Mizzou to play for Championship on Sunday
SimmonsField.com: Big 12 Tournament Championship Game: MU vs. Texas A&M
Big 12 Sports: Mizzou Pitching Takes Down Longhorns
Daily Oklahoman: Relief pitcher Kelly Fick starts, shines in Missouri's win over Texas
Houston Chronicle: Missouri bounces Texas from Big 12 baseball tourney
The Missourian: Missouri advances to Big 12 Tournament championship
Post-Dispatch: Mizzou reaches Big 12 baseball title game
We knew that Mizzou had begun to improve in mid-April. After losing 10 of 11 to fall to 14-22 overall, and 2-9 in conference, the Tigers won four of five conference series to end the regular season to rise from dead last and qualify for the conference tournament. With the way they had been playing, simply making the conference tourney was a nice accomplishment and something off of which Mizzou could hopefully build next year. But all they've done since then is sandwich two wins over No. 6 Texas between a win over NCAA-bound Oklahoma State. Now they play Texas A&M -- against whom they won a home series four weeks ago -- for a spot in the NCAAs. The pitching has been great, the hitting has been clutch, and Mizzou Baseball now has a lot off of which they can build for next year.
3. One Mizzou
When Nicole Hudson's story isn't the most emotional, heartening Joplin-related story of the weekend, you know it's already been one helluva weekend. Kelly Fick may have pitched his final game as a Tiger yesterday, but if so, he's leaving with an unbelievable story. Amid the Joplin rubble, someone found a No. 21 Mizzou Baseball jersey, and it ended up in Mizzou's possession in Oklahoma City. With the jersey hanging in the dugout, No. 21 Fick, a reliever, not only pitched a career-high seven innings, but he pitched seven shutout innings, striking out three, walking none, and allowing just four hits. That's incredible. There's nothing else to say; it's just incredible.
Obviously I like being a Mizzou fan; otherwise, I wouldn't be one. But the last couple of weeks, which have seen the Stubble Drive raise more than we anticipated (the total is still rising), and which have seen the entire state rally around Joplin ... well, I'm not sure I've ever been prouder of being a Mizzou fan. You guys are all awesome.
(Now, somebody remind me I said this when I'm being driven crazy by the idiots a row in front of us who scream "Screw you, Gary!!" at football games. Mizzou fans are still awesome, even when they suck.)
4. Keep The OU Family In Your Thoughts
The Mizzou family is going through quite a bit with one of the bigger Missouri towns being, basically, wiped off the map. But remember that others are suffering too. Just a day after burying linebacker Austin Box, the OU family lost another one: former defensive back Brandon Everage. Everage was probably my favorite player from that 2000 national title squad. OU rarely gets to play the underdog card, but with a scrappy, undersized, rather under-recruited defense, the Sooners rolled to a national title, and Everage reflected the underdog mentality as well as anybody.
1:00 PM CT
Big 12 Baseball: Mizzou vs No. 13 Texas A&M (FSN)
6:00 PM CT
NCAA Softball Super Regionals: No. 5 Mizzou vs No. 12 Washington (ESPN2)