Mizzou softball wins third straight NCAA Regional title

Columbia, MO (UofM) Mizzou used three runs in the third inning and some miscues from the Illinois defense to claim the 2010 NCAA Softball Columbia Regional with a 4-2 win at University Field on Sunday (May 23). Tiger All-American Rhea Taylor scored a pair of runs and swiped a pair of bags as she sparked each of the Tigers' scoring rallies by reaching base to begin the first and third innings.

But the star of the day was Tiger starter Kristin Nottelmann who threw her 13th complete game of the season while scattering just four hits and giving up one earned run while striking out three. She recorded all three wins for Mizzou on the weekend as she improved her record to 22-7 in 2010. The only earned run that she gave up in the championship game was a solo shot to Illinois first baseman Meredith Hackett. After allowing an unearned run in the first, Nottelmann threw four shut-out innings before the solo blast.  

With the win, Mizzou advances the NCAA Super Regional round to face Oregon, who topped Georgia Tech, 4-3, today. The site for that regional is yet to be determined. 2010 marks the third straight season that Mizzou will advance to the NCAA Super Regional round. Last year, it advanced to the College World Series.

Illinois finishes 2010 with a 45-8 mark and the 45 wins ties the most by any Illini team in a single season. Starter Monica Perry was charged with the loss despite giving up only two earned runs as Illinois committed three errors on the day which led to the other two runs. Perry closes 2010 with a 25-7 mark.

Doing as she did in the first two games, Taylor acted as a spark plug for the Mizzou offense, drawing a four-pitch walk from Perry to open the game. She stole second and advanced to third on a double from Catherine Lee to give Mizzou runners on second and third with no one out to open the game. Taylor scored on a sacrifice fly from Ashley Fleming to give Mizzou a 1-0 lead, but that was all the runs Mizzou scored as Perry was able to minimize the damage in the first.

Illinois got on the board in its half of the first as Danielle Zymkowitz scored an unearned run after reaching base on an error from shortstop Jenna Marston. She later stole a base as she advanced into scoring position for the Illini three-hole hitter Meredith Hackett, who ripped a single to right. The ball was not hit deep enough to score Zymkowitz, but a throwing error by Fleming allowed Zymkowitz to score, evening the score at 1-1. Nottelmann retired the next two batters to get out of the inning.

Defense was once again the Tigers' downfall in the second as third baseman Nicole Hudson could not snare a hard-hit liner from Audrey Gallien, allowing her to reach first. The next batter, Jackie Guy, then hit a slow roller to third which Hudson could not handle as she was charged an error, giving Illinois runners on second and third with nobody out. Nottelmann struck out centerfielder Ashley Conrad - who leads the Big Ten with 51 whiffs this season - to tally the first out of the frame, brining in Danielle Vaji. Nottelmann sent vaji back to the bench looking, giving her a chance to get out of the inning with no damage. Next up, Zymkowitz knocked a slow roller to second which set up a close play at first, but Abby Vock fielded it cleanly and Mizzou recorded the third out to escape the inning.

After Mizzou escaped the jam in the bottom of the second, Taylor led of the third with a triple to deep right field, putting Mizzou in position to regain the lead. The triple was her eighth triple of the season. Taylor scored on a single to left by Lee as Mizzou regained the lead at 2-1. Jaydee Young pinch ran for Lee and Jenna Marston came to the plate with a chance to put up a crooked number in the inning. Marston sent a bunt down the third base line, but indecision from Illini third baseman Kelley Wedel led to a throwing error into right center field which allowed Young to score all the way from first and advanced Marston all the way to third.

Wedel contemplated going to first on the throw initially but then thought she could get Young out a second and she sailed the throw, allowing Mizzou to gain a 3-1 lead. The lead was stretched to 4-1 on an infield single from Hudson that plated Marston and a single from Lindsey Muller put runners on first and second with one out for Kathryn Poet. She popped up to shallow left which brought catcher Megan Christopher to the plate and she walked in a 10-pitch at bat after being down 0-2, loading the bases for Vock. But Perry induced a pot out to Zymkowitz to end the half inning. Nottelmann mowed down the 2-3-4 hitters of Illinois in the bottom of the third as Mizzou seemed to grab the momentum.

Pepper Gay relieved Perry in the third and she seemed settled in after the three-run third as she erased the Tiger 1-2-3 hitters in order to open the fourth. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Nottelmann walked Guy with two outs giving Illinois its first base runner since the second inning as she had retired seven in a row. Nottelmann then got Conrad to line out to left to end any chance of scoring a run.

The Illini were finally able to catch up to Nottelmann in the bottom of the sixth as Hackett launched a solo shot to make the score 4-2. The hit was the first for Illinois since the second inning. But Nottelmann rallied to retire the next three batters giving Mizzou a two-run lead heading into the final inning.

Mizzou threatened to add an insurance run in the top of the seventh as the first two runners reached base, but Illini reliever Pepper Gay induced a pop up for Hudson and then Hackett turned an unassisted double play to end the threat, giving Illinois a chance to tie things up in the bottom of the seventh. But Nottelmann was once again brilliant and retired the final three outs of the game after allowing a lead-off single in the inning.

The NCAA Super Regional round will be held next weekend on Friday and Saturday (May 28-29). The bids and sites will be announced later tonight.