posted on June 01, 2010 10:03
On the sports fan's radar, college softball generally comes in nestled somewhere between the WNBA and junior varsity football. I mean, most probably know they play the games. Few could actually say they've seen one...or really care to.
But, Missouri fans, it's time to pay a little bit of attention.
Some of you have probably stopped reading. “He wants us to spend our time reading about softball? Come on. What is Derrick Washington's 40 time this summer? How many times can Carl Gettis bench 225 pounds? Is Tony Mitchell going to qualify? There are REAL QUESTIONS to be answered and this clown's gonna make me read about SOFTBALL?”
Well, yes, I am. Clown or not (and plenty will vote that I am), it's the biggest thing going in Columbia right now.
The Tigers are 51-and-11 this year. They have set a school record for victories for a second straight season and on Thursday will open play in their second consecutive Women's College World Series. In a time where some (yes, Dave Sittler of the Tulsa World, I'm talking to you) are saying the Tigers are pleading for a Big Ten invitation because they can't compete in the Big XII, Missouri is the only team from that league in the eight-team World Series field.
They have gotten there behind a sophomore who started the season as the team's number three pitcher. After Kristin Nottelmann threw a shutout at Oregon and lowered her NCAA Tournament earned run average to 0.75 (tough to lose when your opponent doesn't even score a full run), head coach Ehren Earleywine had this to say:
"Two months ago, Kristin couldn't have done that. She just did not have the confidence, didn't have the courage, she didn't have the toughness, she hadn't put the time in in the bullpen. She's just really developed into such a special kid.
"It's been like, 'Kristin, when are you gonna dig in? When are you gonna care as much as we care?' Now, she's the best player we've got."
Ace Chelsea Thomas (the same one who broke a batter's arm with a hit by pitch as a freshman and started this season 12-and-1 including a no-hitter) hasn't pitched since mid-March with a stress fracture in her arm. Nottelmann stepped in and, after an initial adjustment period, has been one of America's top pitchers. And in this sport, that's saying something. The best in America generally bring it somewhere between 65 and 70 miles an hour from a distance of 43 feet. That's the equivalent of a major leaguer throwing right around 102 miles an hour. Last I checked, there aren't many who can do that.
Center fielder Rhea Taylor has more hits than any player in Big XII history—as a junior. She is batting .442 with an on-base percentage just under .500. That means she is on base more often than Barry Bonds was in 18 of his 22 major league seasons. Taylor has stolen 47 bases in 50 attempts. She had more thefts than the entire Oregon team that Missouri beat last season.
Freshman third baseman Nicole Hudson hit a ball over the right field wall on Sunday. It kept going over the bleachers. And over a road behind the bleachers. Hudson leads the Tigers in home runs with ten. As a senior in high school last year, she hit 40. No one has ever linked her name to PED's. And that ignores Hudson's greatest feat. If you've never watched a college softball game, turn on ESPN some time between Thursday and Sunday. Check out where the third baseman is standing. You want to talk about the freaking hot corner, watch some softball. Fielding third base is more of a self-defense mechanism than a skill in softball.
In the entire history of sports at the University of Missouri, one team has won a national title (baseball, 1954). The softball team takes its shot at doing just that beginning on Thursday. If you want to ignore that because it's not football or hoops, feel free. I'll be watching. It's a fun sport and the Tigers have a hell of a team.
Gabe DeArmond is the publisher of PowerMizzou.com, the Missouri site on the Rivals.com network. You can read his daily coverage of Tiger sports online at http://missouri.rivals.com.