The way the Missouri softball team was scoring runs in recent games, the pitching staff collected wins easily.
But after Nebraska ended Missouri's seven-game winning streak Saturday, Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine said the pitching needed to step up if they were going to win anymore games in the Big 12 Conference.
Sophomore pitcher Kristin Nottelmann did just that Sunday.
She shut down a Nebraska offense that tallied eight hits Saturday, pitching a complete game shutout. She allowed three hits, four walks and stuck out three batters in a 5-0 victory against Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb. The Tigers finished the regular season at 44-10 and 11-7 in the Big 12.
Nottelmann was the first Missouri pitcher to shutout a Big 12 opponent since Chelsea Thomas threw one against Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament championship last season.
"I was very proud of the way she pitched today," Earleywine said by phone. "We won today because she pitched us out of three or four big jams."
Nottelmann relied on her rise ball to get her out of trouble. She pitched out of a bases loaded jam in the second inning and a two-runner jam in the six and seventh innings. She struggled with her control often getting behind in the count, but did not let the Cornhuskers do too much damage. She did not allow a ball to leave the infield until the fifth inning and retired as many as 12 batters in a row.
"That's what separates great pitching from not so great pitching, getting out of jams," Earleywine said. "You see great pitchers in the Majors like Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter that are able to that. Kristin did that today. When the going got tough she got better. She was able to make quality pitches when she needed to."
When Big 12 play started Nottelmann was the replacement ace for Thomas who was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her right wrist. Nottelmann has struggled against Big 12 opponents this season. She came into the game with a 4-4 record against conference teams and an ERA above 4.00. She lost her role as the ace to senior Jana Hainey three weeks ago. She has settled in since losing to Texas last month, winning ten straight decisions and has a streak of 12 1/3 scoreless innings pitched.
"I didn't really know what my role was at the beginning (of Big 12 play)," Nottelmann said. "I think location had gotten better, and I got the spin down on my pitches."
Despite scoring five runs, Missouri could have scored more if it wasn't for a few base running errors. Two Tigers got caught in a run down between second base and first base in the game. Junior Rhea Taylor was called out after leaving the bag to early in the sixth, and freshman Jenna Marston got doubled off at first after sophomore Ashley Fleming lined out to Nebraska's second baseman.
"We didn't deserve to win this game, they didn't capitalize on our mistakes," Earleywine said. "Those base running mistakes cost us significant runs."
But the play that bothered Earleywine the most came in the fourth inning. With runners at second and first and no outs, junior Marla Scweisberger grounded into a 5-4 double play. Schweisberger thought there were three outs and took of her helmet and headed back to the dugout. She was then called out for leaving the bag giving Nebraska the outs they needed in one play. Earleywine replaced Schweisberger after the mental mistake.
"We don't know what she was thinking on that play," Earleywine said. "You have to have concentration when you play this game, and the kids know that."
The Tigers still hit well accumulating eight hits. Taylor ignited the offense going 2-for-4 including a triple, a run and an RBI. Freshman Nicole Hudson also contributed going 1-for-3 driving in a pair of runs on a two-run single in the first inning.
The Tiger will enter the Big 12 Tournament as the No. 5 seed and will play Oklahoma State, a team that swept the Tigers earlier in the season. The tournament starts Friday but a time for the game is yet to be determined.
"If we could have picked one team to play in the (Big 12) tournament it would have been Oklahoma State," Earleywine said. "We felt we were the better team when they beat us at home. We cannot wait to play them."