Kansas Prepares for Regular Season Finale at No. 18/16 Texas A&M
May 2, 2012
LAWRENCE, Kan. – As RPI speculation and NCAA Regional discussions heat up around the softball circuit, Kansas is focused squarely on its final series of the regular season when the Jayhawks travel to College Station, Texas to face No. 18/16 Texas A&M, May 4-6.
Friday, May 4: 7 p.m. CT
Saturday, May 5: 3 p.m. CT
Sunday, May 6: 11 a.m. CT
FOLLOW THE HAWKS
All three games will be streamed free of charge by 12th ManTV on AggieAthletics.com. Fans can also follow the action on GameTracker, located on the softball schedule page on kuathletics.com. Live scoring updates can also be found by following JayhawkSoftball on Twitter.
Texas A&M owns the all-time series record, 47-21 in the series that dates back to 1978. This weekend’s matchup, however, will be the last regularly scheduled between the Jayhawks and the Aggies as Texas A&M will move to the Southeastern Conference next season.
One of the most consistently solid teams in the Big 12, Texas A&M has been nationally-ranked in 12 of the teams’ last 13 meetings. TAMU has won the last four, with KU last defeating the Aggies on April 30, 2009. In Lawrence, the Jayhawks trail the Aggies, 6-11, and 7-19 in games in College Station, Texas.
– Kansas (31-17, 6-14) is receiving votes in this week’s ESPN.com/USA Softball poll, marking the fifth week this season that the Jayhawks have received votes in one, or both, of the national polls. Baylor is also receiving votes on that poll, meaning seven of the Big 12’s nine teams are making a national appearance this week.
– The Jayhawks moved to No. 42 in the NCAA RPI projections this week (4/30), moving up one spot after splitting the series with Texas Tech (RPI: 21). Three of the Big 12’s nine softball schools check-in in the top 10, five in the top 25 and all but one school (ISU, 114) is in the top 45. KU is 9-15 this year against top-100 RPI opponents, and 15-17 facing schools in the top half of the RPI list (No. 1-144).
– KU’s lineup is on the verge of history as its .295 team batting average is the Jayhawks’ highest since hitting .311 in 1985. Heading into the weekend, KU ranks third in the Big 12. Only top-10 teams Texas (.338) and Oklahoma (.315) rank higher as a team.
– The Jayhawks’ success as the plate is guided by the Big 12’s batting leader, junior left fielder Maggie Hull. The captain leads the Big 12 in batting average (.417) and hits (65). If the season ended today, Hull would soundly break KU’s previous single-season batting average record of .400 set in 1979 (Jill Larson).
– KU’s walk-off victory against No. 24 Texas Tech in its last time out marked the Jayhawks’ second win against a top-25 opponent this season and its fourth victory against a top-35 RPI foe. Additionally, the Hawks’ sixth Big 12 win ties its most since the 2009 season.
– The Kansas pitching staff is holding opponents to a .233 batting average and holds a 3.13 ERA as a unit. KU’s pitchers have struck out 283 batters this season.
– Leading the staff, freshman Alicia Pille (17-10) is tied for third all-time for victories by a KU rookie (Stephani Williams, 1991). No Jayhawk has won 17 games since Val George recorded 18 wins in 2008.
ABOUT KANSAS (31-17, 6-14 Big 12)
For the second-consecutive year, the Jayhawks’ final home game was rained out. This season’s rainout cancelled the series finale against No. 24 Texas Tech, which resulted in a series split with both teams winning a game apiece. After a rain delay forced the conclusion of game two to be played on Saturday before the regularly-scheduled second game, the Jayhawks never lost focus. Rather, they rallied from a 4-1 deficit heading into the sixth inning to chalk up a 5-4 come-from-behind win.
That win marked several key points for the Jayhawks, but most importantly it strengthened their postseason resume as the team is in the hunt for its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2006. Sitting at No. 42 in the RPI, Kansas has the opportunity to make a sizable jump with a win at Texas A&M (RPI: 9). Heading into their last series, the Jayhawks have wins against top-50 RPI teams: Texas Tech (21), Baylor (32), Wisconsin (46) and two against Oklahoma State (33).
Ignoring the temptation, head coach Megan Smith said tournament talk is not on the Jayhawks’ agenda this weekend and the team’s focus is squared solely on controlling what they can. That control begins with an offensive that has shown impeccable consistency throughout the last month. The Jayhawks finished April hitting .320, which included games against Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech – all nationally-ranked. All but three starters hit above .300 in April, led by Big 12 batting leader Maggie Hull’s .528 clip for the month (28-for-53).
With three games remaining, Hull needs only two runs to become Kansas’ all-time single season leader (46, Rose Rader, 1980).
Hull is one of several Jayhawks pulling their weight as the offense is running on all cylinders in the peak of the season. In a lethal mix of veteran success and rookies finding their groove, freshman Maddie Stein is second behind Hull with a .386 average both overall and in conference play. Junior shortstop Mariah Montgomery has also come on strong, hitting .362 in April with 15 RBIs. Her 45 runs driven in on the year are fourth in the Big 12.
In the circle, Kansas received an equally impressive April out of freshman Alicia Pille (17-10). She threw 66.0 innings and collected seven complete games over the month. Her 164 strikeouts are fifth in the Big 12, while her four saves are tied for 13th in the NCAA.
ABOUT NO. 18/16 TEXAS A&M (33-16, 13-8 Big 12 Conference)
Picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 Preseason Coaches poll, Texas A&M currently sits fourth in the league’s standings after dropping the series to No. 8/10 Texas last weekend. The Aggies rolled past the Longhorns, 9-0 in six innings in the series opener before losing back-to-back one run games.
Before running the gamut that is the Big 12 Conference schedule, the Aggies set the table with an intense non-conference schedule that included upsets of top-10 teams Stanford and Arizona as well as facing Cal (current No. 1) and Florida (former No. 1).
The Aggies are hitting .285 as a team with 53 homers. Although TAMU’s lineup has the Jayhawks’ beat with the long ball, KU has 62 doubles compared to the Aggies’ 44. Three of the everyday starters are hitting above the .300 mark, with sophomore Emily Albus setting the pace with a .388 average. Much like the All-American ace from Oklahoma, TAMU’s top pitcher Mel Dumezich leads the team in home runs (12).
In the circle, the staff holds a collective 2.60 ERA with 335 strikeouts, thanks almost solely to junior right-hander Dumezich (24-11). She’s thrown 232.0 innings, the most in the Big 12 by nearly 40 innings, and 26 complete games. Her 261 strikeouts are second in the Big 12 behind Ricketts.
HEAD COACH Megan Smith
On Texas A&M being a constant power in the Big 12:
“Texas A&M has a great tradition and is always solid – always. They are solid across the board in what they do on defense, pitching and at the plate. They have some of the best talent in the country and are very well coached. Every time we play them, they’re ranked and they are tough games for us.”
On facing the Aggies’ primary ace Mel Dumezich and making adjustments to be successful:
“(Mel) Dumezich is a tough pitcher, both mentally and physically. She battles and has thrown a lot of innings. She’s done extremely well for them. We’ll have our game plan and we typically get better the more we see each pitcher, so hopefully we do see her in multiple games. I like our odds with that. Our hitters do a really good job of making adjustments from first at bat to second at bat and then from game one to game two. We’ll be prepared to make those adjustments.”
On upperclassmen stepping up down the stretch:
“Our freshmen had been carrying us along with Maggie (Hull) and Liz (Kocon), but now our upperclassmen are really stepping up. They’re really doing a good job of executing and coming through in pressure situations. Maggie Hull and Mariah Montgomery both come to mind. Mia (Montgomery) has had an up and down offensive year, but in the last few weeks she has came on strong offensively and defensively. At the plate, she’s really come through for us, too. That’s what we need. We need to have those freshmen continuing to step up, but we have to have our upperclassmen coming through and leading us. It seems like it’s all coming together now offensively.”
On staying focused with NCAA Regionals talk heating up:
“We’re in a great spot. We’re going to play the No. 9 team in the RPI. That’s a good spot for us, it’s a win regardless. Obviously, we want to and compete as hard as we can. We know we’re capable of beating them. We’ve played the top teams in our conference pretty tough and had chances to win some of those games. We are still focused on us, and this weekend we’re going to go out and compete with Texas A&M.”
Kansas will await its postseason fate following the conclusion of the series at Texas A&M. Next weekend will serve as the Jayhawks’ `bye’ week from conference play and have no games scheduled. The 2012 NCAA Division I Softball Championship Selection Show will air at 9 p.m. CT on Sunday, May 13 on ESPNU.