Kansas to Open Big 12 Play at Border Showdown Rival No. 12 Missouri
March 14, 2012
LAWRENCE, Kan. –Riding an historical 20-game win streak, the Kansas softball team will open Big 12 Conference action against preseason favorite, Missouri, at University Field in Columbia, Mo., March 16-18.
The only Big 12 matchup this weekend pairs Kansas (20-2) against No. 12 Missouri (17-3) and will debut the new three-game series format. This season, the conference has moved to a Friday-Saturday-Sunday format, playing one game each day. With the loss of Nebraska, the eight Big 12 softball teams will now play a total of 24 conference games as opposed the old format’s 18 Big 12 games.
Friday, March 16, 6 p.m. CT
Saturday, March 17, 2 p.m. CT
Sunday, March 18, 12 p.m. CT
After 100 meetings between the rivals, Missouri and Kansas will meet for the final time as members of the same conference. The Tigers have committed to joining the SEC beginning in 2012-13. MU leads the all-time series, 60-40; that includes a 25-15 record in Lawrence, a 23-14 record in Columbia and a 12-11 mark in neutral site games.
The last time the teams met, they squared off in a doubleheader at Arrocha Ballpark in Lawrence, Kan., on March 23 of last season when the then-No. 13 Tigers took both games by a one-run margin. Three of the four meetings between Kansas and Missouri in the Megan Smithera have been determined by a single run.
FOLLOW THE HAWKS
Fans can follow the action on GameTracker for each game, located on the softball schedule page on KUAthletics.com. Live scoring updates can also be found by following JayhawkSoftball on Twitter.
– Kansas won its fourth-straight tournament in the team’s last time out, going 5-0 to claim the Osprey Classic, hosted by North Florida.
– During the Jayhawks’ program-best win streak, they have outscored opponents, 131-30, while averaging 6.5 runs per game and holding opponents to 1.5 rpg. In their two losses, KU’s pitchers walked a combined 21 batters and allowed 14 runs for a 6.00 team ERA. Since then, the staff has allowed just 38 total free passes while striking out 156 for a 1.34 team ERA. KU’s offense hit just .200 in the two opening day losses but has erupted for a .338 batting average during the 20-game span.
– KU is preparing to battle within one of the toughest conferences in the NCAA. Last season, four Big 12 squads advanced to the Women’s College World Series. This season, five of the nine schools are nationally ranked, four are hitting over .300 as a team while four post an ERA of 1.25 or lower.
ABOUT KANSAS (20-2, 0-0)
Kansas is receiving six votes in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches poll and three votes in this week’s ESPN.com/USA Softball poll, which ranks No. 30 on both. The Jayhawks were last ranked in the top-25 during the 2011 season, earning a No. 22 spot on the March 22 Ultimate College Softball poll.
The Jayhawks made history in their 1-0 victory against North Florida (3/10). The win was the 18th in a row, breaking the previous program-best win streak of 17-consecutive wins set by the 1992 Jayhawks. Heading into the Big 12 Conference opening weekend, KU has cranked out 20-straight Ws.
Heading into the weekend, KU’s .325 batting average as a team ranks third in the Big 12, edging Missouri’s .324 mark. Kansas is the only school to have two hitters rank in the league’s top five with sophomore second baseman Ashley Newman hitting .436 (4th) and junior left fielder Maggie Hull at .432 (5th). Junior shortstop Mariah Montgomeryleads the team with five home runs, while her team-best 27 RBIs are third amongst her Big 12 counterparts.
In the circle, the Jayhawks are staffed with three starters: freshman Alicia Pille (9-2), junior transfer Morgan Druhan (6-0) and sophomore Kristin Martinez(5-0). As a unit, the Jayhawks’ 1.79 ERA is fifth in the league. Pille leads the team with 96 strikeouts (3rd Big 12/23rd NCAA) and 10.5 strikeouts per seven (5th Big 12/6th NCAA), while Martinez’ team-best 1.53 ERA is also in the league’s top 10.
ABOUT NO. 12 MISSOURI (17-3, 0-0)
For the first time in conference history, Missouri was tabbed as the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 after winning its first league title in 2011. The Tigers traveled to Arkansas on Wednesday and defeated the Razorbacks, 4-0, for their 12th-straight victory. Only one of the team’s three losses came at the hands of an unranked opponent, while the Tigers’ powerful offense has ended nine games this season in five-inning run rules.
At the plate, the Tigers are one point shy of the Jayhawks in team batting average (.324) and home run total (17), and are led by freshman phenom Kelsea Roth. The rookie has started all but one game at first base, racking up a .405 average and a .576 on-base percentage with 17 walks. Senior outfielder Ashley Fleming has started all 19 games and paces the offense with four home runs.
In the circle, Missouri is led by well-known redshirt junior Chelsea Thomas. Last season’s Big 12 Pitcher of the Year, Thomas is also a First-Team All-American and was a USA Softball National Player of the Year Top Three Finalist. In 2012, Thomas is 8-1 with a 0.78 ERA. All seven starts have resulted in complete games and her 69 strikeouts lead the staff that is also consists of three starting pitchers. As a unit, the Tigers are third in the Big 12 with a 1.15 ERA.
COACH SMITH’S TAKE
On opening Big 12 play against preseason favorite and Border Showdown rival Missouri:
“Missouri is obviously the preseason No. 1 and had a great season last year that ended in the Women’s College World Series. They have one of the best pitchers in the country so we have our work cut out for us this weekend. Our goal is to compete, compete for every pitch. We’re not going to worry about them as much as we will focus on ourselves, how competitive we are and how hard we’re working.”
On the debut of the three-day conference series:
“They’re used to playing three days in a row (in non-conference tournaments), so three day series won’t feel any different. This weekend we were able to play the same opponent three different times three days in a row, I think that was good in terms of making adjustments and learning a team. We’re so used to three games, we feel like this will be natural for us.”
On her players not allowing the 20-game win streak to affect Big 12 focus:
“We play in one of the toughest conferences in the country. Our goal is to make NCAA Regionals so we have to win more in the Big 12. To win more, we have to compete every single inning, every single pitch and we’re excited to get started. It’s fun to play in the best teams in the country and we’ll be doing that every single weekend from here on out.”
Kansas will stay in Missouri for its first midweek competition of the season on Tues., March 20. The Jayhawks will make the short trip to Springfield, Mo., for an afternoon doubleheader against Missouri State. The games are slated for 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.