COLUMBIA – For senior pitcher Kristin Nottelmann, Wednesday's 3-1 victory against Northern Iowa meant more than just extending the No. 9 Missouri softball team's home winning record to 17-0 or ending the Panthers' 15-game streak.
For her, it was about recovery. It was a little bit about redemption, and frankly, it was about letting go of some frustration.
Tigers catcher Jenna Marston continues to be Missouri's queen of walks. She added four more to her total of 32, not technically tallying an at-bat in Wednesday's game.
Senior outfielder Ashley Fleming, who was recently named USA Softball Player of the Week, extended her hitting steak to five with a double in the third inning.
Freshman pitcher Bailey Erwin threw two scoreless innings of relief on Wednesday, sending her team-leading ERA to 0.96, .01 below Chelsea Thomas.
Nottelmann delivered the first pitch of the game at about 4 p.m. Wednesday, more than 260 hours since the last time she had thrown a pitch that counted — March 31 against Baylor.
Nottelmann, the Tigers No. 2 pitcher all season, is normally the starter of the second game of most Missouri series. In a three-game set, the rotation usually is Chelsea Thomas in Game 1, Nottelmann in Game 2 and Thomas again for Game 3.
But that is not what happened in the Tigers' past series against then No. 3-ranked Texas. Instead, Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine opted to start the All-American Thomas in all three contests, resigning Nottelmann to the dissatisfying role of cheerleader.
"Obviously you want to throw, but it wasn't the best feeling in the world," Nottelmann said after Wednesday's game about not pitching against Texas. "But you know, I had to do what was best for the team, and if me not throwing was the best, then that's fine. I know I'll get my time to pitch, and it's not really that big of deal as long as we win."
Considering she is a senior and this is her last go-around with the Tigers before graduating, her answer seemed pretty mellow.
But according to Earleywine, this wasn't just a speech she prepared for the media. After Saturday's rubber-match win against Texas, Earleywine said Nottelmann couldn't have handled her time on the bench any better.
"I told Kristin after the last game ... how proud I am of you for never putting your head down and never pouting," Earleywine said. "All weekend long, she was upbeat. She was helpful in anyway she could be helpful. I just told her I appreciated that because there are so many players that would piss and moan and make a big deal out of that, bring the whole weekend down, but she didn't do that."
On Tuesday, he said he was even more impressed with Nottelmann who had scheduled time with Missouri's pitching consultant to work out some of the kinks in her mechanics.
"I'm telling you, when I put my arm around her after the third Texas game, she acted like she had just pitched and we had just won." Earleywine said.
But the fact remained that she hadn't pitched against Texas, and this was longest stretch that she hadn't pitched all season. Wednesday night's nonconference game became more important than usual. Not only did Nottelmann need to show up and pitch well against Northern Iowa to regain some confidence, but she needed to make sure there wasn't a let down after the big series against Texas.
After surrendering a solo home run in the first inning, she recovered and allowed only two more runners to reach base in five innings while racking up seven strikeouts.
"It was good to be able to get five innings in of good solid work for this weekend," Nottelmann (10-2, 1.71 ERA) said. "I don't think I did my best, obviously it was good enough for a win, but I think there is definitely some room for improvement."
This weekend, Missouri (31-6, 9-3 Big 12) will play host to Big 12 rival Texas Tech (31-9, 4-4 Big 12) in a three-game series. The Red Raiders will come in to Columbia on Friday night as the No. 5 team in the conference led by the power-hitting tandem of Adriana Perez and Mikey Kenney, whose 24 combined home runs make them the second most dangerous duo in the Big 12.