UNSUNG HERO: Thurman shines behind plate when catching Pickens

May 1—EDMOND, Okla. — With two outs in the bottom of the seventh on Wednesday evening, Kiki Pickens needed just one more strike as she had Central Missouri's Jadyn Sheffield in a full count with three balls and two strikes.

Pickens delivered a drop ball that skimmed the turf at home plate but Sheffield chased the low pitch and swung and missed.

MSSU catcher Kate Thurman blocked the low pitch, scooped it up and fired a perfect throw to first base for the last out of the game at the University of Central Oklahoma. The win sent the Lions into the second round of the MIAA tournament against Rogers State University.

"Kiki's a beast. ... It's really cool to go to that pitch 3-2 and trust it. And trust both the pitcher and catcher," Thurman said.

Head coach Hallie Blackney believes Thurman's work to catch the tricky movement of Pickens' drop ball sometimes goes unnoticed.

"The thing that goes unseen sometimes is how well Kate (Thurman) catches her," Blackney said. "It is not easy to catch Kiki. Her ball moves a ton. It's swings and misses and balls in the dirt. If Kate's not blocking how she's supposed to be, those are wild pitches and runners get on. The unsung hero with all of that is Kate Thurman."

The movement on the drop ball doesn't just make it hard for a batter, it's hard for a catcher to be able to read.

The drop is a late break to make it difficult on the hitter but if a catcher can't track the ball and make sure to be in proper position to block it when it does wind up in the dirt — or turf like on Wednesday — it can wind up at the backstop, and with runners on base, that's never good.

For Thurman and Pickens, continuously playing catch with one another has helped both feel comfortable enough to be able to make that pitch in a 3-2 count with a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning and the team's best offensive player on deck.

"A drop ball pitcher can be hard to catch but Kiki and I have worked hard together in the fall and spring to where I'm comfortable and she's comfortable enough to throw those balls in the dirt and get people to chase," Thurman said.

And the work doesn't just come in the offseason or pairing up for in-game performances. The junior catcher and freshman pitcher get in work multiple times a week during the season as well.

"Me and Kiki pair up a lot because I do well with drop-ball pitches. We throw together probably four or five times a week. It's a lot of work but it pays off in the end," Thurman said.

Blackney added this about her "unsung hero":

"Phenomenal catcher. Great at blocking, great at receiving. Every good pitcher has a good catcher and Kate Thurman is that."

Thurman isn't a prototypical catcher, as she is left-handed. But she and Blackney both said there are advantages to having a catcher who throws with her left hand just as some believe there are disadvantages to being left-handed while playing behind the plate.


Blackney's mother, Kathy, was coaching at Maryville High School when Central Missouri's head coach, Susan Anderson, was head coach at Northwest Missouri State University. Anderson was head coach at NWMSU for four seasons and got to know the Blackney family well during that time.

Kathy passed away in 2020 after a long bout with Alzheimer's disease.

So, coach Anderson and MSSU's coach Blackney have known one another for quite some time.

Anderson wanted to say this about Blackney after Wednesday's game:

"Hallie has an amazing family. And, you know what, she's making her mom proud with coaching. I'm proud of Hallie as well. She's done a really nice job down there at Missouri Southern."