HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) _ By the time Southern Mississippi pitcher Courtney Blades was 12 years old, she had worn out her first catcher.

Sitting on a bucket in the backyard, Margaretta Blades served as batterymate to her daughter until it became too dangerous to stop the youngster's array of diving and jumping pitches.

``The speed wasn't too bad, but the ball would break so much,'' Margaretta said. ``I said 'This isn't going to work no more.'''

Ten years later _ now with speed as nasty as her movement _ Blades has become the NCAA's K Queen.

She broke her own single-season strikeout record this season, which stands at 632 in 376 2-3 innings heading into Thursday's first day of the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.

Blades also became the NCAA's career leader in strikeouts on the last weekend of the regular season when she surpassed California's Michelle Granger, who struck out 1,640 from 1989-93. That mark is at 1,742 and counting as Southern Miss (61-11) and Blades prepare to face Arizona (57-7).

``She's up there with a lot of the best I've seen over the years,'' said Louisville coach Sandy Pearsall, a Conference USA rival who has played and coached college softball for 16 years.

Blades only had two scholarship offers after a fine high school career. So, how did the lanky 5-foot-11 slinger go from practically unrecruited to virtually unhittable?

``I had an awesome coach,'' Blades said.

Southern Miss coach Lu Harris was heading Nicholls State's softball team when she signed Blades out of high school.

Harris left Nicholls State in 1998 to take on the job of restarting Southern Miss softball, a program that had been dropped in 1992, and Blades followed ``just to be with her again. I knew nothing about the school.''

Led by Blades' dominating pitching and Harris' coaching, Southern Mississippi went to the Women's College World Series last year.

Harris says the increased movement on Blades' pitches is what has turned her into an All-American. Blades, in turn, credits Harris with showing her how it's done.

``She taught me a lot,'' Blades said. ``She taught me what a four-seam riseball is.''

Think about New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera's fastball, the one that seems to leap from a batter's letters to his eyes just as it reaches home plate. Blades' four-seam riseball does the same thing.

Thrown at between 62-65 mph from 43 feet away from home plate, Blades' riseball looks like a 90-mph fastball thrown from 60 feet, 6 inches.

``What makes her very unique is she comes with so many things at you,'' said Pearsall, whose team didn't score and managed just five hits in three games against Blades this season.

Blades idolized Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg Maddux growing up. Now, she does a pretty fair impression of the four-time Cy Young award winner.

``She's going to set you up. She's going to get ahead and then she's going to have you chasing balls. That's where she's got you,'' Pearsall said.

Blade's repertoire also includes a dropball that breaks straight down, a curveball that breaks away from righties, a screwball that moves in on a right-handed hitter, and a changeup thrown with nearly identical arm speed, but about 10 mph slower, than her riseball.

Despite all Blades has accomplished _ her 50 wins this season ties the single-season NCAA record _ some question whether she'd be as untouchable if she played in a stronger league such as the Pac-10 and Big 12.

Two of Blades' loses came early in the season to Pac-10 foes Arizona and Washington.

Harris looks at it differently.

``She would have been pitching at a different level all her life,'' Harris said. ``She would of had the best level of pitching coaches. I think she is incredibly talented and she could have been incredibly successful in those conferences. She is no where near her potential.''