May 22, 2010

Courtesy of Missouri Sports Information

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Mizzou's Ashley Fleming knocked in two runs on a pair of singles, collecting two of the four Tiger hits as the No. 8 Mizzou softball team defeated No. 18 Illinois in game three of the NCAA Softball Columbia Regional on Saturday (May 22) at University Field. The win for Mizzou earns it a spot in tomorrow's Regional final, which will be played against an opponent that is to be determined. The win improves Mizzou to 11-9 against top-25 opponents this season and gives them a 2-0 mark in the Columbia Regional.

Aside from Fleming, Mizzou received a great performance from starting pitcher Kristin Nottleman as she tossed a complete game while allowing only one earned run in the contest. She scattered just seven hits on 120 pitches and struck out eight batters - including Illinois' Hollie Pinchback to end the game. The complete game for Nottleman is her 12th of the season and the win improves her overall record to 21-7 in 2010. Illinois left nine runners on base in the contest as Nottleman was able to pitch out of jams all afternoon. Illinois' Monica Perry was tagged with just her sixth loss of the season.

In all, Mizzou was held to just four hits in the contest - two of which belonged to Fleming - but it was able to take advantage of stolen bases as two of the three Tiger runs came off of runners that swiped a bag to advance to scoring position. The crafty base running and key hitting from Fleming were enough to overcome the four-hit effort for Mizzou. The two RBI for Fleming moves her season total to 41. Fleming was the only Tiger with more than two hits in the game.

Tiger All-American Rhea Taylor served as a spark plug for Mizzou in the first inning as she led off the game with a single. She eventually stole second and third and was knocked in on a single by Fleming to give the Tigers an early 1-0 lead after the first frame. The run scored by Taylor was her 60th on the season, the second-most in a single season by any Tiger.

Illinois got on the board in the third inning after right fielder Hollie Pinchback knocked a two-out single to center, setting up a play at the plate. Taylor, who was playing center field for Mizzou, tossed a perfect throw home, but Illinois' Hope Howell slid around the tag from Tiger catcher Catherine Lee as the Illini evened the score at 1-1. But that was the only run that Illinois scored in the game as Nottleman and the Tiger defense held the Illini lineup in check throughout the rest of the game.

Mizzou broke the tie in the fourth inning after a solo homerun from third baseman Nicole Hudson as she blasted a 2-2 pitch over the right field wall, clearing the temporary stands and fence that were placed just beyond the wall. The homerun was the ninth of the season for Hudson and her 38th RBI in 2010. It was also the first homerun of the Columbia Regional after almost 18 innings of action. Before the homerun from Fleming, Illinois starter Monica Perry had retired eight of nine batters, allowing only a walk in that span.

After Nottleman pitcher her way out of a jam in the top of the fifth inning, Illinois brought in Pepper Gay in relief of Perry in the bottom of the frame. Gay walked the first batter she faced, Marla Schweisberger, on four pitches to open the inning, but a strike out/throw out on an attempted hit-and-run immediately put Gay back in the driver's seat as she escaped the inning after Taylor lined out to third base.

Nottleman continued to mow down the Illini hitters as she forced Illinois center fielder Ashley Conrad to fly out to left field to end the sixth inning. She induced the pop up on her 101st pitch of the day. In the bottom of the sixth, Mizzou added an insurance run on an RBI single by Fleming which knocked in Princess Krebs, who was pinch running for Lee. Fleming was thrown out a second while trying to stretch the single into a double, but it was her second RBI of the day and her second hit of the contest. After six innings, Fleming owned two of the Tigers' four hits in the game.

Tiger head coach Ehren Earleywine sent Nottleman back out to the circle in the seventh inning and she quickly retired the first two batters of the inning. But things got interesting from there as Illinois' Howell and Meredith Hackett strung back-to-back hits, bringing Pinchback to the plate with a chance to draw Illinois even. But Nottleman struck her out swinging to end the game.

Mizzou advances to the Columbia Regional Championship game, which is slated for a 1 p.m. start tomorrow (May 23). Mizzou's opponent is yet to be determined, but should they lose that game, a game seven will be played at 3 p.m.