COLUMBIA — The beginning of the Missouri softball team’s first-round 3-2 NCAA Regional win over against Creighton, started out as a frustrating day for junior Catherine Lee.
In the bottom of the third, with the count at 1-2, Lee looked at a pitch that the umpire called strike three. Lee who normally looks happy on the field turned around disgusted, threw her hands up in the air and argued the call with the home plate umpire.
In the bottom of the fifth, an angry Lee drilled a pitch right off the shoulder of Creighton third baseman Michelle Graner, who ended up getting the force at third, ending the inning.
The Tigers were down 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning. They had runners on third base and second base with no outs. Lee ended her frustrations when she ripped a 3-2 pitch over the Creighton centerfielder's head, sending the crowd at University Field into frenzy. As soon as junior Rhea Taylor scored the winning run, Lee pumped her fists in the air and ran into the mob of teammates awaiting her.
Missouri (47-11) defeated Creighton (37-22) in the first round of the double-elimination NCAA Regional tournament Friday. Hitting the game-winner was surreal to Lee.
“I’m still shaken. I couldn’t wait to see Rhea because I knew she would take me down. I’m thinking shaken because she gave me a concussion,” Lee joked. “It’s just an adrenaline rush for the entire team to come back.”
Even mild-mannered Missouri assistant coach Phil Bradley came sprinting out of the dugout along with the players to celebrate. The normally cerebral Missouri head coach Ehren Earleywine pumped his fist after the hit. It was a gratifying moment for the fourth-year coach who thought the game might have been out of reach going into the seventh.
“Those thoughts unfortunately creep into your head whether you want to stay confident or not,” Earleywine said. “This is what we all play for. The most emotion you’re going to have is a coach is this time of the year. I’m not afraid to fist-pump I’m not afraid to cry, this is where you lay your heart out on your sleeve and go with it.”
Creighton ace Tara Oltman stymied the Tigers for the first five innings and kept the Tiger hitters of balance with her high-velocity pitches. In some at bats it seemed like the Tigers were hitting a bowling ball rather than a softball, hitting weak ground balls and infield pop ups.
Down 2-0 in the sixth inning, freshman Nicole Hudson got an RBI single giving the Tigers their first run of the game. The Tigers ended up with runners at third and second with no one out. It seemed like a prime opportunity to score. But after two foul outs and a strikeout, the inning was over which stressed out Earleywine.
“That’s where all these gray hairs come from, I don’t get them from going fishing I can tell you that much,” Earleywine joked. “She (Oltman) was throwing hard right to till end. We never got on time. We got some beautiful hitting counts and great situations and got jammed. How many times are we going to watch kids in front of us be late (in their swing), and make some sort of adjustment with our stride foot and shortening our swing. It shouldn’t take five innings to make an adjustment to a pitcher.”
The Tigers got solid pitching performances from senior Jana Hainey and sophomore Kristin Nottelmann. Hainey pitched four innings giving up two runs on five hits and struck out a season-high seven batters.
Nottelmann was able to overpower hitters with her rise ball and was able to throw her change up for strikes, which was something she has struggled with earlier in the season. She got the win pitching three innings in relief and did not allow a single base runner and stuck out four batters.
“I hit my spots and hit my locations and my hitters came through for me,” Nottelmann said.
Missouri advances to the winner’s bracket of the Regional tournament. The Tigers will play Illinois at noon Saturday at University Field. Illinois won 4-2 against DePaul Friday.