For the third time in as many NCAA regional games, Missouri softball’s pitcher held a no-hitter deep into the game Sunday. For the first time all weekend, it lasted the whole game.
Jordan Weber pitched a no-hitter, earning seven strikeouts in the Tigers’ 5-0 win against Iowa State and moving Missouri on to this week’s super regional in Columbia. As the final pitch crossed home plate, the overwhelming majority of the 2,313 people in attendance were sent into a raucous chorus of cheering for the Missouri pitcher.
“I know we came out every pitch and gave it our all,” Weber said. “Every single game, every inning, and I think that’s what the difference was. We made sure we gave 110% every single time.”
The Missouri pitchers conceded just two hits combined in their three regional games. That dominating pitching set up a best-of-three super-regional matchup against James Madison.
“I am so, so proud of this team all the way through,” Missouri coach Larissa Anderson said. “From Jordan Weber and our pitching staff, what they’ve done, what they’ve accomplished this weekend, I’ve never been part of anything like that. … I mean all the way through. Some of those defensive plays we made to save the no-hitter, clutch hitting. … Just all the way, great team effort, so proud of my coaching staff and really what we’ve accomplished here.”
The two teams met on a day tailor-made by the softball gods — a skin-burning sun with a bright blue sky with a few clouds painted across it. The Tigers and Cyclones lined up for the national anthem along opposite foul lines. The two sides were familiar with one another — they split two games in the regular season — and they now faced one another again for a trip to super regionals on the line.
The road for both teams was simple. Missouri needed to win one to get in. Iowa State needed to win two.
On the back of a redemption win against Northern Iowa, the spirits were high in the Cyclone dugout.
“It’s nice because we have a lot of film on (Missouri), but they also have a lot of film on us,” Iowa State first baseman Carli Spelhaug said Saturday. “I have 100% confidence in our coaches, that they’re gonna come up with a great game plan.
“Hopefully we can take two from them tomorrow.”
‘Tomorrow’ came quickly for Spelhaug and Iowa State, as well as the Tigers.
Iowa State coach Jamie Pinkerton took a gamble before the first pitch was thrown. He started freshman pitcher Saya Swain, who came in with a 1-4 record and a 5.17 ERA. In a game in Columbia early in the season, she shut the Tigers down at first, only to lose late in the game.
Swain threw six pitches and walked Missouri’s Brooke Wilmes. Pinkerton pulled her from the game after Wilmes touched first. It was the second time in as many nights Swain had been pulled before the end of the first. Swain was called for an illegal pitch just before she was replaced by Karlie Charles.
“It wasn’t a decision, it was based on interpretation of the rule,” Pinkerton said. “We knew that with Missouri, with the way they hit and their run-scoring capability, we just couldn’t get to a point where we have a couple people on, and then you give up a double or a home run, so we just went quick. … It wasn’t much of a decision, we had to do that in order to stay in the game.”
The game came alive for the Tigers after that. A double from catcher Hatti Moore brought Jenna Laird across home plate to give Missouri an early lead, and a slap hit from Abby George brought home pinch-runner Hannah McGivern in the next inning. After two innings of play, the score was 3-0 in favor of Missouri.
Four innings after a wild pitch added a fourth run to the Tigers’ scoreline, Wilmes stood in the left-handed batter’s box against Cyclone pitcher Ellie Spelhaug. For the third time in as many games in the regional tournament, Wilmes knocked a home run over the right-field wall, her 11th shot of the season. The lead stood at 5-0.
“Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever done this in my entire life,” Wilmes said. “Just to be able to go out and do that, it’s a new experience for me because I’m not really one of those home-run hitters I guess. So the fact I was able to do that, I was actually a little impressed with myself because I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.”
The Tigers’ defense also came through with highlight-worthy plays. Kimberly Wert made an impressive catch on a foul ball as it was falling into the Missouri dugout. George made a diving catch on a popup that came into right field. Laird made a diving stop to keep the ball in the infield before firing over to Raabe for the out.
Weber and the Missouri defense earned two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. In the final matchup, it was Weber against Iowa State’s second baseman Kasey Simpson.
Simpson battled throughout her plate appearance. A number of pitches were foul, and she continued to fight to end Weber’s no-hitter bid and keep the Cyclones alive.
On the final pitch of the game, Weber attempted to catch Simpson with a pitch away from the zone.
Simpson swung, but her bat did not find the ball.
“I knew Jordan could do it from the very first pitch that she threw today,” Moore said. “(Simpson) had a great last at-bat, she kept battling, so I kept telling Jordan, ‘Get it off the plate, get it off the plate. Make sure she can’t touch it.’ She did a great job spotting her pitches, and I’m really proud of her.”
When the final pitch was nested in Moore’s glove, the catcher and pitcher leaped into each other’s arms before being swarmed by the rest of the team.
“I kind of was in shock, (I was) super excited,” Weber said. “I didn’t really know what to think at all. (What) I saw was Hatti running at me and just the excitement and emotion that the team gave off was amazing.”
Missouri hosts James Madison in Columbia in the super regionals at 8 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday. The Dukes upset No. 9 Tennessee before defeating Liberty in the Knoxville Region championship game. They currently stand at 37-1 and are CAA champions.
Anderson, who moved to Missouri from Hofstra, is familiar with her super regional opponent.
“I know James Madison really well,” Anderson said. “(I) played a lot of championships with them, have a lot of respect for their coaching staff and what they’ve done there. … It’s going to be a great team. We’re going to have to prepare really well. They have an unbelievable offense and a really, really deep pitching staff. … We know we’re going to have to prepare and they’re going to come out fighting.”
With the win, the Tigers advanced to their first super regional since 2016. Since she took charge of the team in 2019, Anderson has embraced the underdog role. While that may be more difficult to do in the super regional, the Tigers have made a habit of proving people wrong in her tenure. This season is no exception, with Missouri being picked to finish eighth in the SEC in a preseason poll of the conference’s coaches.
“We’ve been (proving people wrong) since I got here,” Anderson said. “First year, we were picked to finish last, and I immediately was like, ‘OK, fine. We’re not gonna finish last. They know we’re not going to, they know we’re not.’ I like being the underdog, it’s good because then we can just go out and no one’s expecting us to win other than ourselves, and we only worry about Mizzou softball and we know what we’re capable of. We really don’t care what the critics say.”