Erin Kalka said Nebraska has the toughest batters in the Big 12 Conference.
Yet she had 11 strikeouts and gave up two earned runs against the Cornhuskers in the first game of Missouri’s two-game sweep last weekend.
“They’re really aggressive and they go after the first pitch,” she said.
After MU’s 4-3 win against Nebraska, Kalka is third on MU’s list for season strikeouts with 265. She is four strikeouts away from second place, which Stephanie Falk, who graduated in 2000 holds. Teresa Wilson, who graduated in 1982, is the leader with 281.
Kalka will likely pass Falk in the Big 12 Softball Tournament in Oklahoma City, Okla. The No. 3 seed Tigers (26-23, 13-4) play their first two games today. The first is at 10 a.m. against No. 6 seed Oklahoma State. Results will dictate the time and location of the second game.
The championship game of the double-elimination tournament is Saturday at 6 p.m. Fox Sports Net will broadcast the game.
Kalka helped MU to a third-place finish in the Big 12. The Tigers finished one game out of first place. The Huskers, ranked 13th, won their ninth consecutive Big 12 title.
“We beat the team that won the conference,” coach Ty Singleton said. “If we’d swept the weekend before, we would have won the title.”
In their last home games, the Tigers split a two-game series against last-place Texas Tech. The Tigers lost 1-0 to the Red Raiders on May 1 before defeating them 10-0 on May 2.
The Tigers swept Oklahoma State. The first game of the Tigers’ April 3 series went 14 innings, twice as long as regulation games. Kalka had 25 strikeouts, the third-highest amount in an NCAA game. In the second game the next day, she had 10 strikeouts in six innings. Her performance earned the Big 12 Pitcher of the Week award.
“She embraces challenges; she looks forward to every opportunity,” Singleton said.
Kalka, a junior, has pitched since she was 12 because no one else wanted to play the position.
“I wanted to be in the circle and wanted to have the ball every time,” she said.
Kalka (21-15) is not flashy. She hesitates to discuss her strikeouts after games. She willingly embraces Singleton’s unique coaching methods, though, which focus on approach and routine. Singleton and Tom Royder, who works with the Tigers’ pitching staff, came to MU after Kalka’s freshman year.
“I was really excited when he came here,” Kalka said. “I kind of had a routine of my own. They really added to it, just getting deeper into your process.”
Fluid breathing and visualization of pitches are important to Kalka’s routine. After games, she writes evaluations of her pitching performance and mental approach.
“And there’s a place on there where you do write your goals for next game,” she said. “You keep going to a different level every game.”
Kalka said she wants to excel at the highest levels of college softball, but will move on from the sport after college. As intensely as she focuses in the circle, Kalka seems to focus on schoolwork even harder. A family studies major, she plans to pursue either graduate or law school.
“I think I’m going to take the (Law School Admission Test) this summer,” she said. “I’m definitely going to grad school no matter what.”