It is almost unfair to zero in on one player's performance as the reason for Mizzou's advancement to their second consecutive Women's College World Series. Lisa Simmons went 3-for-4 this weekend and scored the game's only run on Saturday. With Mizzou up just 3-2 yesterday, Nicole Hudson hit a bomb that still hasn't landed. Down 2-1 in the bottom of the 7th against Creighton, Cat Lee delivered the game-winning 2-run double. Numerous players made outstanding defensive plays. It's cliche to call something a team victory, but clearly so many members of the Mizzou softball team were required to make plays for Mizzou to go 5-0 in NCAA play the last two weekends.
That said ... clearly one player has stolen the spotlight. The offense has come up with timely hits but little sustained offense, having scored more than four runs just once in the last six games. A pitching staff that lost its ace a couple of months ago has had to come up huge ... and one pitcher in particular has done just that.
After Saturday's shutout win over Oregon, Ehren Earleywine (a.k.a. Coach Stubble) expressed amazement over the development of sophomore Kristin Nottelmann over the last month or so.
"Two months ago, Kristin couldn't have done that," Earleywine said. "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.
"If you'd have told me she was going to shut out Oregon today, seriously, I just don't know what to say. I'm so proud of her.
"I would have never predicted it. It's not a knock on her, it's just the amount of distance she's come in such a short amount of time.
"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."
It's safe to say ... she dug in.
I thought it would be interesting to check out how Nottelmann's season has progressed, from getting shelled by Alabama, to struggling after Chelsea Thomas' injury, to this dominant run in the NCAAs. Below are all of her appearances against major conference (and NCAA Tournament) opponents. Feasting on the SEMO's and SIU-Edwardsville's of the world help your overall numbers, but they don't tell you a whole lot. So we're going to focus on only the real teams against whom Nottelmann pitched.
(Note that the "W/L" column just mentions the team result, whether or not Nottelmann got the decision.)
|2/26||vs Virginia Tech||W||9-4||4.1||1||4||4||6||6||7.78||2.33||0.91|
|4/25||at Texas A&M||L||5-6||5.1||6||4||3||2||5||4.89||1.71||1.21|
|4/28||at Iowa State||W||12-6||3||4||2||2||1||1||4.88||1.70||1.20|
Obviously your ERA has nowhere to go but down when it's at 25.20 after one appearance, and her ERA has clearly improved all season. But as or more importantly, take a look at the WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched) and K-BB ratio. Quite simply, Nottelmann was nibbling too much, not trusting her stuff, and walking too many batters. Of her first 11 appearances against real teams, six of them (at Alabama, vs Va. Tech, at Oklahoma #2, Oklahoma State #1, at Texas #1, at Texas #2) could be considered questionable at best. At that point, she had a 5.66 ERA against real teams.
In her last 14 appearances, on the other hand, things have fallen into place. She's had only two really questionable appearances (her two games at the Big 12 Tournament ... which happened to be in Oklahoma City, home of the WCWS, for what that's worth), and her ERA for each given game has been at 1.50 or lower ten times.
Here is another way to break down this data:
Even with two mediocre showings at the Big 12 Tournament two weeks ago, Nottelmann's May numbers are just staggering. She is giving up basically two fewer hits and two fewer walks per seven innings and striking out players at a slightly higher rate. I'm obviously a big stat nerd, and I love all the advanced baseball metrics that have given me a better understanding of the game ... but sometimes you don't need a boatload of stats to figure something out. This one is pretty simple: Kristin Nottelmann has grown more confident, has learned both how to trust her stuff and how to challenge hitters, and has become the ace Mizzou lost in Thomas. Mizzou will go as far as she takes them next week, and here's to hoping that's pretty far.