All season long, defense was a problem for the Oregon Ducks. Oregon was last in the PAC-10 in fielding percentage and had committed 65 errors in 55 games this season. And it was an error by the Ducks that provided Missouri the winning margin in a 1-0 win in the opening game of the NCAA Tournament Super Regionals.
With two outs in the fifth inning and Lisa Simmons on second, Gina Schneider hit a ground ball to third. Ducks' third baseman Monique Fuiava skipped the ball past the first baseman, allowing Simmons to round third and score the only run of the game. The play was (generously) scored an infield single and an error.
"With two strikes, coach E just tells us to try to get it in play the best we can," Schneider said. "I got it in play and just tried to run as fast I could and just tried to beat it out. When I saw the first baseman headed toward me, I knew it was gonna be a bad throw."
"That's something that we've talked about all year long that when there's two outs and there's a ground ball hit on the infield, I want you to try to score," coach Ehren Earleywine said. "I won an ACC championship on that exact play five or six years ago and today we won a Super Regional game one and that's a big deal. That's just a hustle play on Lisa Simmons' part."
Leaky Tiger defense nearly helped Oregon to an early lead. The Ducks loaded the bases in the second on singles from Kelsey Chambers and Carlyn Re sandwiched around an error by Tiger shortstop Jenna Marston. The second single went off Nicole Hudson's glove and Hudson later slipped, causing her to miss a foul pop-up with the bases loaded. But Hudson nabbed a liner and Marsten ranged in the hole for a force out that kept the Ducks scoreless.
The single run was enough for Tiger sophomore Kristin Nottelmann, who played escape artist throughout the day. The Ducks loaded the bases two different times in the game, but failed to scratch across even a single run.
The most serious Oregon threat came in the top of the fifth. Kaitlin Vitek, just a .221 hitter on the season, led off with a single to left and ninth place hitter Ashley Kivett rifled a double to left center. Pinch-runner Blair Williamson was held at third, but the Ducks had two in scoring position with nobody out. But from there, Nottelmann got Allie Burger to pop up to short left and struck out Neena Bryant, who was hitting .545 in the post-season coming in to the game. After an intentional walk, Chambers then grounded out to short to end the inning and keep the Tigers tied.
Nottelmann left another Duck stranded in scoring position in the top of the sixth and worked a perfect inning in the seventh, giving the Tigers the victory. Nottelmann moved to 5-and-1 in the postseason, lowering her earned run average to 2.40. In the NCAA Tournament, she is 4-and-0 with a 0.75 ERA.
"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," the coach continued. "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."
Earleywine said Nottlemann will get the chance to pitch the Tigers into the Women's College World Series in game two of the best-of-three series on Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for high noon at University Field.
A record crowd of 1,765 watched the game on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon.