KU Softball off to Historic Start

March 21, 2011


The 2011 edition of the Jayhawk softball team is garnering national attention for its sizzling 26-3 start

032111aab_946_4418922.jpegTo say the Kansas softball team is off to its best start in program history is no stretch of the imagination, because at weekend’s end it was. Just over halfway through the 2011 season, the Jayhawks have already surpassed last year’s win total with a 26-3 overall record through 29 games.

“We are very happy with our start,” said head coach Megan Smith. “We have a group of young girls and they have worked real hard. The biggest difference from last year is we have depth on the mound and pretty much everywhere else. I think that has really helped us in our first stretch of games.”

Out of the gate, the team started its winning ways by claiming its first 10 games. Since then, KU has picked up its second double-digit win streak of the season, currently at 11 games. Some of those victories included a 5-4 win over nationally ranked North Carolina in the Jacksonville University Tournament, a 7-4 win against Bethune-Cookman in the Stetson Hatter Invitational where the Jayhawks smacked a school record four homeruns during the game and a hard-fought 3-2, extra inning victory over Georgia Tech in the Coastal Carolina Chanticleer Classic just this past weekend.

Victories are not the only thing coming at a blistering pace for the Jayhawks; balls going over the fence seem to be a regular occurrence as well.

Through their first 29 games the Jayhawks already have hit 37 homeruns, an average of 1.3 per game. In 56 total games in 2010, KU managed 31 dingers. The team has also stolen 20 more bases (46), scored 19 more runs (200) and collected 13 more RBIs (176) than it did all of last season through just over half of the team’s 2011 games.

“This fall we made offense a big priority in terms of making some adjustments to our swings that were flawed last year,” the second-year head coach said. “We did a lot of evaluation this summer as to why we did not perform well offensively.”

Those adjustments are paying big dividends, especially for senior Brittany Hile. The 5-9 catcher is batting .384 with 10 home runs, ranked sixth in the Big 12 Conference, and 30 RBIs. Hile, who was recently selected 15th overall to the NPF Diamonds during the National Pro Fastpitch Senior Draft, compiled just five homers and 25 RBI during her entire junior season.

“Brittany is leading us right now,” Smith said. “She started off the season batting ninth and quickly moved up to third in the line-up, so she has certainly stepped it up.”

While the team’s offense is getting much praise, the KU women who toe the rubber are also contributing to the Jayhawks’ hot start. Freshman Kristin Martinez has already won 12 ballgames this season, more than any Jayhawk pitcher won last year. Opponents are also scoring nearly two runs a game less, (2.31) against Crimson and Blue pitching compared with last year’s team ERA of 4.24.

032111aab_946_3637747.jpegThe young Jayhawks (12 of 19 who are underclassmen) have also received votes in at least one of the major softball polls for four consecutive weeks. Although being named to that select group is an honor Smith’s team would welcome, it is not exactly what they are shooting for.

“That is big although we are not necessarily looking to get ranked or receive votes,” Smith explained. “With that said, it is good to know that other people are seeing that we are doing well and starting to take notice.”

Coach Smith knows her Jayhawks will face their toughest tests of the year once conference play opens up later this week.

“Obviously when we get into conference, we are going to face a lot of teams that are ranked,” she said. “The Big 12 is the deepest conference in terms of success this season, so we are going to have a tough road in the Big 12 and our girls know that, but we are ready for it.”

Kansas will start traveling down that road with a doubleheader to begin conference play versus No. 13/17 Missouri on Wednesday, March 23 at Arrocha Ballpark. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. Eight of the 10 conference teams are currently ranked in the top 25, more than any other conference in the nation.