COLUMBIA — Missouri found some offense from an unexpected place.
Senior catcher Lisa Simmons had one hit in 25 at-bats coming into Sunday afternoon's first game. Then she went 2-for-2 at the plate, including a solo home run, to help the No. 14 Missouri softball team (16-3) to a 10-0 five-inning win against the Illinois State Red Birds (13-10).
Missouri head coach Ehren Earleywine said the coaches have been working in practice with Simmons to improve her swing. So he wasn’t surprised to see her get some hits.
“The less you hit, the tighter you get, and that was certainly the case with Lisa,” Earleywine said. “She was overthinking things. Mechanically, she had a strange approach with her stride, and we corrected that. I think when we corrected that she hit the ball a little bit better and then the confidence came.”
Simmons said she knew she was capable of creating offense but finally getting some hits will help her as the season continues.
“It gives me a little more confidence,” Simmons said. “I mean, I know I can do it. It’s kind of just 'When is it going to happen? When is it going to happen?’ So, finally today I put the bat on the ball.”
Earleywine said he hopes Simmons can keep that swing going because it gives him more options with his lineup and allows him to rest his other catcher, senior Megan Christopher, more often.
Christopher caught the other three games of the DeMarini Invitational.
“It’s nice because you don’t want to wear Megan’s knees out by catching her all four games (this weekend), so then Lisa becomes a viable option that doesn’t hurt you at the plate,” Earleywine said. “It’s worked out great. Hopefully, she can keep this stroke.”
Junior pitcher Kristin Nottelmann picked up her eighth win of the season, giving up just one hit and one walk while striking out nine Illinois State batters.
Nottelmann struggled against Illinois on Saturday. She gave up three runs and was pulled in the bottom of the seventh inning to give way for redshirt sophomore pitcher Chelsea Thomas to close out the Illini.
On Sunday, Nottelmann looked sharp, showing no ill effects from her tough outing the previous day.
“Something was a little off yesterday, and it kind of showed in my performance,” Nottelmann said. “But I wasn’t going to let that get me down. I came out today prepared, ready to go, forget about yesterday, and it worked out the best for me.”
Earleywine said he saw Nottelmann utilize different pitches like she never has before, and he hopes she can use her change-up more as the season continues.
“The difference-maker to me for Kristin was the ability to throw her change-up for a strike. She not only threw it when she was ahead, … she even threw it a few times when she was behind in the count,” Earleywine said. “Tonight was the best I’d ever seen her change-up, so maybe we can start making strides toward throwing that when she’s behind a little more often.”
In the final game of the DeMarini Invitational on Sunday, Missouri got an 8-0 victory over Illinois (9-9) in six innings. Thomas allowed two hits while striking out eight in her sixth win of the year. More importantly for the Tigers, the offense didn’t let down in its second game of the day.
On Saturday, Missouri beat Illinois State 9-0, and then pulled out a narrow win over Illinois 4-3. The Tigers wanted to make sure Sunday’s game against the Illini was never in question.
“I think we just were a little more relaxed,” Simmons said. “We knew we didn’t want to have a game like we did yesterday against Illinois, so I think we had something to prove a little bit. It showed today that we were a little more relaxed.”
Earleywine said he was proud of his players for responding to his message to put up runs and shut out opponents.
“What I told them before the weekend was, ‘Instead of us just winning games this weekend and squeaking by, let’s be like these legendary programs and when people come to town, let’s win decisively and let’s dominate,’” Earleywine said. “You take Arizona or UCLA or Florida and those schools, if they would’ve had these teams in this weekend, they would’ve done the same thing. If we want to be considered among those elite programs, that’s the way we have to start thinking.”