June 1, 2010

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By Jim Rodenbush
Special to NCAA.com

COLUMBIA, Mo. - The Missouri softball team had just a brief stay at the Women's College World Series in 2009. The Tigers lost twice and were quickly eliminated from the event.

Sophomore pitcher Kristin Nottelmann is certain things will be different when Missouri makes a return visit this week.

"Last year, we were just kind of awestruck about being in the World Series and making it there," she said. "We just kind of settled with just being there. This year, we actually want to prove that we are supposed to be there, and we can do well. I feel like, with the momentum we have, that we can do that."

If the right-hander continues her strong performance in the NCAA tournament, she might single-handily lead No. 8 Missouri through a deep run at this year's series, which open Thursday in Oklahoma City. No. 9 Missouri will play No. 16 Hawaii, which upset top-ranked Alabama in a three-game Super Regional, in the first round.

Missouri is unbeaten in this year's NCAA tournament and Nottelmann has won all five games. Last weekend, she threw a pair of complete games and allowed just one earned run to help the Tigers sweep No. 22 Oregon at Missouri's University Field and win a NCAA Division I Super Regional championship.

In four starts and one relief appearance, Nottelmann has a 0.87 ERA. She's allowed three earned runs in 31 innings while walking five and striking out 22.

"She's been pitching her heart out," Missouri second baseman Gina Schneider said. "She's just beared down, gone out there, and given it all she's got. The whole team has been proud of her and what she's done. I'm proud of her and what she's doing the past couple of weeks."

Nottelmann leads the Tigers pitching staff with a 24-7 record, but was struggling entering the start of the Columbia Regional on May 21. She was hit hard in two starts in the Big 12 Championship, allowing 11 runs in 11 innings combined against Texas and Oklahoma.

She began to turn things around in the Regional opener against Creighton. Nottelmann tossed three scoreless innings in relief and struck out four batters as the Tigers rallied for a victory in their final at-bat. She followed that up with a pair of complete game victories over Illinois, leading the Tigers to their third straight Regional crown.

Along the way, the pitcher silenced some critics who might have doubted her ability as a big-game pitcher.

"It's exciting to prove people wrong," Missouri left fielder Lisa Simmons said. "Kristin, I just think she goes out there and has the mentality that she's a winner. ... She did great. You couldn't ask for a better performance."

"I think we've always believed in her," added Tigers third baseman Nicole Hudson said. "We got her back. Big players are going to step up in big games, and that's just what she's doing. It's awesome."
Nottelmann shut down Oregon, 1-0, in the Super Regional opener this past Saturday. The next day, she scattered eight hits and walked no batters in a 7-2 victory over the Ducks which clinched Missouri's World Series appearance.

"She wasn't afraid," Oregon coach Mike White said. "She came right at us. ... Hats off to her. She's just not afraid. That's what you've got to be. You've got to go out there and have trust in your defense. She didn't get behind a whole lot. She attacked us. All of those sort of things you need to do as a good pitcher."
Nottelmann did not pitch in last year's World Series. That's certain to change starting this week, but the pitcher does not think she will be rattled by the environment.

"It's not really that big of a difference for me," Nottelmann said. "I feel like the (Super Regional) and the World Series games, the first ones, will pretty much be on the same level. If we make it to the championship, I'll probably be a little awestruck, but I'll handle it."