After upset, Missouri softball team stays alive in NCAA regional play

Saturday, May 21, 2011 | 11:28 p.m. CDT; updated 11:34 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 21, 2011
The Missouri softball team gathers at home plate to congratulate Ashley Fleming after she hit a two-run home run against Illinois State in NCAA regional competition Saturday afternoon at University Field. Fleming's home run helped the Tigers earn a 12-3 win over the Redbirds in both team's regional opener. But the Tigers lost to DePaul in their second game, forcing an elimination game against Illinois State on Saturday night. Missouri won that game 8-4 to advance to Sunday's championship round against DePaul.

COLUMBIA — A defensive mental error combined with heads-up base running put the Missouri softball team on the brink of elimination in Saturday’s NCAA regional competition.

In the third game of the day, DePaul (41-13) picked up a 2-1 win over No. 4 Missouri (48-8) in bizarre fashion.

Sunday's NCAA regional games

DePaul (41-13)
vs. No. 4 Missouri (48-8)

WHEN: 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.*
University Field

*If necessary

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With runners on first and second in the bottom of the 11th inning, DePaul’s Ali Warren hit a ground ball to Missouri’s Jenna Marston at shortstop, who threw out the runner trying to score. Then, senior catcher Megan Christopher trotted about five steps forward away from home plate, looking to throw Warren out at second.

When Christopher left home plate, DePaul senior Alex Morocco, who had just rounded third base after starting the play at second, continued toward home. Christopher’s teammates shouted and pointed for her to run back and tag Morocco, but Morocco had gotten an advantageous jump and easily beat Christopher to home plate.

“That’s something we practice all the time. We call it the secondary first and third. It’s not a traditional first and third where you’re trying to steal, but it’s when it happens after you hit the ball,” DePaul coach Eugene Lenti said after the game. “You just hope they throw the ball around. They didn’t throw it around, but she (Christopher) vacated home plate.”

As soon as Lenti saw Christopher leave home plate and Morocco start running toward it, he knew his player was going to score.

“I started cheering before she touched home plate because I knew there was no way the catcher was going to get to her,” Lenti said.

Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine refused to comment on the play after the game.

“I don’t want to address that. I want to put that in my past,” Earleywine said. “We’re not going to get into finger pointing. We win together, and we lose together.”

In their elimination game against Illinois State (36-19), the Tigers came together to prolong their postseason, beating the Redbirds for a second time Saturday. Junior Kristin Nottelmann picked up her second win of the day, allowing four runs on nine hits while striking out four batters.

Senior Rhea Taylor led the offensive onslaught in the 8-4 win with four hits and an RBI. Senior Marla Schweisberger added three hits along with a two-run home run, while sophomore Nicole Hudson had two hits and two RBIs.

Drama was totally absent from Missouri’s first game of the day, when the Tigers beat Illinois State 12-3 in five innings. Hudson and junior Ashley Fleming each hit home runs to lead the Missouri offense, while Nottelmann allowed three runs on five hits and recorded three strikeouts.

In the first game Saturday, DePaul managed just two hits against Indiana (37-18), but the Blue Demons opened their regional play with a 2-1 win over the Hoosiers. Later in the day, Indiana became the first team eliminated after suffering a 3-1 loss to Illinois State. Missouri’s two wins over the Redbirds eliminated them from regional play.

Missouri has one loss heading into Sunday, while DePaul has none. With the double-elimination format, the Tigers have to beat DePaul in back-to-back games to advance to super regional play. While Missouri might have looked vulnerable against DePaul, the players are as confident heading into Sunday as they have been heading into any game this season.

“When we lose it’s personal to all of us,” pitcher Chelsea Thomas said. “We won’t let them beat us again.”

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