Earlier in the season, Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine said that any softball team is only as good as their ace pitcher. Saturday's game against No. 16 Texas might have proved his point.
The Tigers played their ninth game without ace Chelsea Thomas, who is out with a mid-level stress fracture in her right wrist. Nottelmann (8-5), the Tigers replacement ace, pitched four innings giving up four runs on six hits and walked three in a 5-2 loss to the Longhorns in Austin, Texas.
"We missed a chance to turn a double play in the first, but it was a bad throw that the first baseman wasn't able to dig it out of the dirt. We didn't make the routine plays," Earleywine said by phone. "We are just beating ourselves."
Missouri softball is obviously a different team without their ace. The Tigers started the season 23-3 and were ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation. Since losing Thomas on March 22, the Tigers have gone 5-4 and have dropped four spots in the national rankings.
Thomas is 12-1 on the season with a 1.72 ERA and 123 strikeouts (11.13 strikeouts per game). Without her, the Tigers have a 3.14 ERA and have averaged 4.1 strikeout per game. After losing Thomas, Earleywine noted that the team would have to find different ways to win without the sophomore right-hander.
"We don't get as many strikeouts without Chelsea, so our fielders have to make plays," Earleywine said. "We aren't as good of a team without her, but we still could have won the game. We haven't asked for extraordinary performances from our No. 2 and three pitchers, we just want them to piece things together. To be honest, our pitching hasn't done that well lately."
Earleywine said Thomas' injury has healed, but not as fast as they anticipated. She will see a doctor again within the next five to seven days. The Tigers coach said if Chelsea is "100 percent" by postseason play, the the team would likely bring her back.
Shutting down a powerful Texas lineup was no small task for the Tigers. The Longhorns have 60 home runs this season, including three on Saturday breaking a school record of 58 set in 2009. Two of the home runs were hit off the bat of Nadia Taylor in the first in fifth innings, driving in four of the five Longhorn runs.
While the Tigers did not have their ace, the Longhorns had theirs. Blaire Luna came into the game leading the Big 12 with 260 strikeouts, a 0.88 ERA and a 19-5 record. She used a powerful rise ball to hold the Tigers to four hits and struck out 11 to pick up the victory in seven innings of work.
"She is the best pitcher we've seen in the Big 12 so far," Earleywine said. "We have to go after her first pitch more often before she gets us out with the rise ball."
The Tigers had a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh with two runners on base and freshman Princess Krebs at the plate. After falling behind 1-2 in the count, Krebs looked like she was going for a home run taking a massive swing only to strike out and end the game. She the flung her bat toward the Tigers dugout in frustration.
One bright spot for the Tigers was sophomore Ashley Fleming who hit a home run in the fifth inning to give the Tigers their first run of the game. The home run was Fleming's fifth and extended her hitting streak to seven games.
Jenna Marston also had a solid performance at the plate, going 2-for-3, with a run scored.
The No. 7 Tigers (27-7, 3-4) play the Longhorns (33-9, 5-1) again at noon Sunday in Austin, Texas.