Kansas Prepares for Series at No. 22/25 Baylor

April 4, 2012

Kansas at No. 22/25 Baylor
Sophomore second baseman Ashley Newman’s 18 stolen bases is one shy of Baylor’s leader, Kathy Shelton (19).
April 6-7, 2012
Location Waco, Texas
Friday 4 p.m. CT
Friday 6 p.m. CT
Saturday 11 a.m. CT
Live Stats Kansas GameTracker
Game Notes Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. – A mix of small ball, speed and execution will fuel the three-game series in Waco, Texas as the Kansas softball squad prepares for its fourth-straight weekend against a Women’s College World Series team when the Jayhawks face No. 22/25 Baylor, April 6-7.

Friday, April 6: 4 p.m. CT
Friday, April 6: 6 p.m. CT
Saturday, April 7: 11 a.m. CT

Baylor All-Access will stream a free live audio broadcast of all three games. Live video will also be available with subscription.

Fans can follow the action all weekend long on GameTracker, located on the softball schedule page on kuathletics.com. Live scoring updates can be found by following JayhawkSoftball on Twitter.

The series dates back to 1981 and Kansas leads the all-time record with Baylor, 23-18. In Lawrence, the Bears lead, 8-6; in Waco, the Jayhawks lead 11-8; on neutral turf, KU holds the 6-2 advantage. Baylor has won three of the last four meetings and was ranked in the top-25 for all four of those matchups. KU last defeated the Bears in a 2-1 meeting in Waco on April 11, 2010.

– Kansas is a week removed from receiving votes in both national polls. As a testament to the strength of the Big 12 Conference, KU moved from No. 25 to No. 30 in this week’s NCAA RPI projections following a three-game skid at No. 5/7 Oklahoma.

– In the NCAA’s RPI projections released on April 2, four of the Big 12’s nine softball schools check-in in the top 20 and four more are in the top 45. KU is 6-8 this year against top-100 RPI opponents, and 14-10 facing schools in the top half of the RPI list (No. 1-144).

– This series sets Kansas up against a 2011 WCWS team for the fourth-consecutive weekend. Missouri (March 16-18), Oklahoma State (March 23-25), Oklahoma (March 30-April 1) and Baylor (April 6-7) each advanced to the Women’s College World Series last summer.

– The weekend matchup will pit speed against speed. Kansas has had only one would-be base stealer thrown out this season (35-for-36), while the Bears have had a runner tossed just seven times (57-for-64). BU’s Kathy Shelton is 19-for-19 on the year, while KU’s Ashley Newman is a perfect 18-for-18 in 2012.

– KU’s hitters displayed their ability to adjust at Oklahoma. Facing All-American Keilani Ricketts, KU was on the losing end of the USA Softball pitcher’s perfect game in the series opener. In her second appearance, however, the Jayhawks recorded nine hits – the most Ricketts has surrendered this season. The two runs driven in by freshman Chanin Naudin marked the first earned runs scored against Ricketts in Big 12 play this season.

– As a team, Kansas’ .283 batting average ranks fifth in the league, while junior left fielder Maggie Hull leads the regulars hitting at a .355 clip. Both she and leadoff hitter Ashley Newman rank in the Big 12’s top-10 in hits and runs scored.

– On the other side of the plate, the Jayhawk pitching staff is holding its opponents to a .226 batting average. Freshman Alicia Pille is keeping hitters at a .202 mark, and is making a splash on the national scene. The rookie’s 9.2 strikeouts per seven innings rank 18th in the NCAA, while her seven shutouts and three saves are tied for eighth-best in the country.

ABOUT KANSAS (23-10, 2-7 Big 12 Conference)
While running the gauntlet that is the Big 12, the Jayhawks continue to find ways to improve – and their freshmen are setting the trail. Against the best pitching in the league, Oklahoma (0.72 ERA), freshmen Maddie Stein and Chanin Naudin each raised their batting averages during the series. Facing All-American pitcher Keilani Ricketts, the duo combined for five hits in KU’s last time out. Fellow rookie Lexi Bryant also drilled her team-best eighth double of the season, tying her for third in the conference.

KU enters Friday’s doubleheader hitting .283 as a team, with five Jayhawks posting batting averages of .300 or better. Although the Jayhawks enter the weekend on a four-game losing skid, half of those contests have seen them outhit their opponent – including their last time out in a 6-2 loss at No. 7 Oklahoma.

As they head to Texas, the Jayhawks are hitting an impressive .326 (92-for-282) with runners in scoring position. Only top-10 teams Texas (.369) and Oklahoma (.338) are hitting for a better average with runners on. Captains Maggie Hull and Liz Kocon are the definition of clutch as the duo is a combined 12-for-24 with runners in scoring position and two outs, including 18 RBIs and four homers.

The Jayhawk pitchers hold a team ERA of 2.84, but own the strikeout advantage over the Bears with 222 total strikeouts compared to 164. Freshman Alicia Pille (11-5) leads the starters with a 2.20 ERA and 125 strikeouts, good for fifth in the Big 12. The rookie’s seven shutouts mark the fourth-most all-time for a Kansas freshman and the most recorded by a Jayhawk pitcher since the 2006 season (Kassie Humphreys, 10).

ABOUT NO. 22/25 BAYLOR (24-12, 1-6 Big 12 Conference)
Picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 preseason poll, No. 22/25 Baylor currently sits in eighth place in the conference standings, one spot behind Kansas. The Bears snapped a four-game losing skid when they swept Stephen F. Austin in a doubleheader at home Wednesday night. The Bears handed No. 5/7 Oklahoma its only conference loss when they took a 1-0 decision in Waco on March 28.

At the plate, the Bears pose a stark contrast to the Jayhawks’ most recent opponent, Oklahoma. The Sooners cranked out their Big-12 leading 54th home run of the year against Kansas, while Baylor comes into the weekend with eight home runs as a unit. What the Bears don’t possess in power, however, they make up for with speed and diligent execution. BU is hitting .263 as a team, but is second only to Texas (63) with 57 stolen bases on the year.

Junior centerfielder Kathy Shelton not only leads the team with a .388 batting average, she also surpassed KU’s Newman for second in the Big 12 with her 19th stolen base on Wednesday night vs. SFA and sits eighth in the league with a .484 on-base percentage.

In the circle, Baylor suffered its biggest setback on Feb. 26 in a non-conference contest against North Texas when junior All-American pitcher Whitney Canion tore her ACL.

Without the use of their all-time strikeout leader, the Bears have relied junior Courtney Repka (11-6) and sophomore Liz Paul (7-5). The right-handed duo is not one to give up runs as Repka (.190) and Paul (.194) rank ninth and 10th in the Big 12, respectively, in opposing batting average.

HEAD COACH Megan Smith
On facing an offense nearly the opposite of Oklahoma in terms of small ball and speed:
“Baylor is one of those offenses that when you look at the numbers, you don’t see a lot of power, but their strengths are their speed, short game and execution. They are very well-coached offensively, very disciplined at the plate and they get to teams by utilizing those strengths.”

On the rest of Baylor’s pitching staff stepping up for the injured Whitney Canion:
“Both of their pitchers have really stepped up. That’s what happens when you’re dealing with a major injury to one of your players, other people get the chance to step up. Both of their pitchers have been really successful and have done a good job for them. So right now, it’s not Whitney Canion, but their pitchers are still doing a great job of holding hitters to a very low batting average and teams aren’t scoring many runs against them. They are good, solid pitchers that are sound fundamentally. I think that’s what you see from Baylor’s team overall are very good fundamentals.”

On the familiarity of a Friday doubleheader:
“We’re used to doing that. That’s something that we’ve grown accustomed to. We like the new conference format, so going back to a doubleheader will be a little different. It’s certainly something that we’re used to.”

On her pitching staff and her hitters making adjustments throughout the weekend at Oklahoma:
“We were really, really pleased with the adjustments we were able to make against a National Team and All-American pitcher (Keilani Ricketts) the second time we saw her. We did extremely well and it was good to see the freshmen do that. As good as (our freshmen are), freshman year is a tough year. We’re really excited to see how they keep fighting, keep working and keep wanting to learn. They step into the box with a fresh mind no matter what their batting average is and that’s exciting to see. We’re seeing their improvement as the season progresses, and they are only going to get better.”

The Jayhawks will kick off a 13-game homestand when they play host to in-state rival Wichita State on Wednesday, April 11. The midweek doubleheader will be televised by Metro Sports and is scheduled for 4/6 p.m.