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May 30, 2010

Tigers headed back to College World Series

A day after being handcuffed all day by Jessica Moore, Missouri wasted no time getting to the Oregon ace on Sunday. The Tigers scored two runs in the top of the first inning on the way to a 7-2 win over Oregon that put the Tigers into their second consecutive Women's College World Series.

"For a long time, everybody's counted us out and I think everybody had their doubts about this team. That's always a fun story when people can overcome the odds like they have," head coach Ehren Earleywine said. "People can cross that any way they want to cross it up, but at the end of the day, we're going to the World Series and I'm very proud of that."

After a soft lineout by Rhea Taylor to start the game, Tiger third baseman Nicole Hudson lined a single off the center field wall, missing a home run by less than a foot. Jenna Marston reached on a fielder's choice and Ashley Fleming drove in her 43rd run of the season with a single. Marston moved to third and scored on a passed ball, putting the Tigers up 2-0. Moore ended the threat there, but the damage was done.

The Ducks struck back with an unearned run of their own in the bottom of the first. With runners at the corners and one out, Kaylan Howard lined out to second. But Gina Schneider's throw behind the runner sailed past Catherine Lee, allowing Allie Burger to score from third.

Moore kept the Ducks in the game in the second, working out of a two-on, nobody out jam. But the Tigers struck again in the fourth on the second home run of the season for Lisa Simmons. Simmons was not a regular starter during the season, but Earleywine put her in the lineup for the Super Regional on a hunch because Simmons is a good dropball hitter.

"Last week, I don't know, something just changed for me. Coach E was like, 'Lisa, change your bat angle,'" Simmons said. "Everything just kind of made sense for me. I worked really hard last week to try to get into the lineup. Maybe a little bit of luck and a little bit of hard work."

Simmons' dinger drove Moore from the game. But who was on the mound for the Ducks didn't much matter. Oregon used four pitchers, including two in a four-run sixth inning that all but punched the Tigers' ticket to their second consecutive Women's College World Series. After two strikeouts, Missouri got a home run from Nicole Hudson, who hit 40 a season ago at Webb City High School. The drive crossed the road beyond the right field wall and landed somewhere on the fairway of the practice green at A.L. Gustin.

"Oh my God," Marston said. "I had the best seat in the house for that one. It was a bomb."

"I was just surprised I didn't fall going around the bases," Hudson said. "I feel like we needed something big that inning. I kind of felt them getting a little bit of momentum and I just wanted to get something going."

Hits by Marston and Fleming plated another run before a walk, a double steal, an infield single and an error gave Mizzou lucky number seven.

"I needed a little more run support and I asked (Hudson) for it. She gave it to me and started that big rally that gave me a little bit of breathing room at the end," said winning pitcher Kristin Nottelman. "I just said thank you."

The offense was more than enough for Nottelmann. The Missouri sophomore ran her NCAA Tournament record to 5-and-0 with an ERA of 1.00.

The Tigers will open World Series play in Oklahoma City on Thursday. The schedule is yet to be set. PowerMizzou.com will have previews of the World Series throughout the week.


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