2013 Season Outlook: Pitchers

Jan. 28, 2013

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – As the 2013 Kansas softball season inches closer, KUAthletics.com will break down each position by returners and newcomers as well as successes they each bring back from 2012, beginning with the pitching staff.

Kansas stepped up its pitching production in 2012, holding batters to a .240 batting average while finishing the season with a 3.27 ERA – the team’s lowest since the 2009 season. With all but one of the Big 12 teams they faced ranked in the RPI’s top-40, including three in the top-10, the Jayhawk pitchers struck out 294 batters to rank fifth in the league.

The Jayhawks’ improved strikeout numbers were due in large part to the emergence of Alicia Pille. In her freshman campaign, the Royse City, Texas native ranked fifth in the league with 171 strikeouts. Pille’s 17 wins tied her for third-most by a freshman in program history and were the most wins for any Kansas pitcher since the 2008 season. Additionally, she tossed eight shutouts, three of which were one-hitters. The last Jayhawk pitcher to blank that many teams in a season was Kassie Humphreys in 2006.

Although the Jayhawks lose two pitchers from the 2012 staff, they gain back a familiar – and proven – arm in redshirt junior Alex Jones. After tearing her ACL preparing for last year’s fall season, Jones was forced to take a medical redshirt in 2012. Fully recovered, Jones is ready to reprise her role as a primary outfielder and secondary pitcher. Prior to the injury, the Enid, Okla., native led the staff with a 2.55 ERA in 46.2 innings during the 2011 season.

According to head coach Megan Smith, senior Morgan Druhan will work both as a starter and a relief pitcher in 2013 after filling both roles a year ago. The Spanish Fort, Ala., native finished second on the team behind Pille with 76 strikeouts in 80 innings of work.

Smith adds only one pitcher to her staff in 2013, but she’s expected to make an immediate impact. Freshman right-hander Kelsey Kessler comes to Kansas after a decorated career at Blue Valley High School (Blue Springs, Mo.). The only player in school history to be named All-State all four years, Kessler kicked off her high school career with eight no-hitters and a 30-0 record as a freshman to set the precedent for her career to come.

Kessler wasn’t the only addition Smith made over the offseason as she hired experienced pitching coach Abbie Sims to join her coaching staff. Sims perfected her craft at the University of Houston, where she spent five years as the pitching coach for the Conference USA power. While there, Sims trained the 2008 C-USA Pitcher of the Year in Angel Shamblin, the 2011 C-USA Newcomer of the Year in Donna Bourgeois and the 2011 NCAA leader in strikeouts per seven innings in Amanda Crabtree.

HEAD COACH Megan Smith
On Alicia Pille’s step up from freshman to sophomore year:
“We’re looking at what she could’ve improved on last year and refining those things. We’re working on her pitches and adding a few more things to her arsenal as well as mental side of the game. She did an excellent job as a freshman for us, but at times this league can be a little overwhelming. So I think having a year under her belt and really addressing the mental side of things this fall and this winter is going to help her do even better this spring.”

On Kelsey Kessler’s exciting high school career and what she brings to the table:
“She had a really strong fall. She throws the hardest out of any of our pitchers and brings a quiet confidence. She believes she’s unbeatable when she’s out there, which is fun to see. It’s fun to watch her pitch. She and Pille are going to push each other, whether it be in workouts or in games. They have different strengths and weaknesses, but they both are very strong.”

On if she plans for Pille and Kessler to carry the most innings:
“It’s hard to say, you know that Pille has the most experience and had a very successful freshman season so you know you can rely on her. Kelsey had a great fall, Morgan (Druhan) has done well in workouts and is working extremely hard. Plus, Alex Jones is back and it’s great to have her back, so we’re going to rely on all four of them. We’re going to use them all and try to put them in the best position possible for each of them to be successful.”

On Alex Jones coming back as strong as she was before the redshirt season:
“Alex Jones has played the best softball this fall that she has since she’s been here. That’s really fun to see. I’m really proud of her for coming back that strong and mentally strong enough to be able to do that. Pitching-wise, we eased her in this fall. We just didn’t want to aggravate her knee and wanted to make sure it was solid and stable, but the pitching she did do was really good. You always know what you’re going to get from A.J. pitching-wise. She’s consistent, she gives everything she has when she’s out there and I think she’ll pick up where she left off and be even better.”

On Morgan Druhan being used primarily in the reliever role:
“Morgan has the capabilities to be a good starter, too. She is a totally different type of pitcher than any of the other three we have. It’s nice that she brings a big contrast. She’s been working a lot on making her pitches better and gaining confidence in those pitches. She did a great job for us in relief at times and did a great job starting at times, so I think we’ll still see her in the same capacity.”

On having more depth in the circle:
“I think so. We missed A.J. (Alex Jones); she gives us some really good innings and we missed that last year. We do have good depth and good experience. The freshman (Kelsey Kessler) that we have is a very talented freshman, one who’s carried the load on every team she’s played for. Depth is definitely something we have in the pitching position.”

On seeing a lot of improvements after Abbie Sims’ first fall as pitching coach:
“She brings a different mentality to the pitching staff. She’s very no-nonsense and knows what it takes to win at our level. She knows how to train pitchers to be prepared and win at our level. I think you’ll see her biggest impact as a pitching coach in game situations. I think she will be very good at helping them manage in-game situations and making them mentally prepared.”

The Kansas softball media day is schedule for Friday, Feb. 1 in the softball locker room. Interviews will begin at 1:30 p.m. Kansas opens the season against North Carolina State in the first of five games at the Florida Atlantic Invitational, Feb. 8-10.

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