Building a Program: 2012 in Review
May 30, 2012
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Armed with two-straight 30-win seasons, the longest win streak in program history and the Big 12 batting leader, the Kansas softball team continued its upward climb in 2012.
Kansas finished the season 31-20 overall and 6-17 in the Big 12 Conference, the most wins in conference play since the 2009 campaign. When the NCAA released its first RPI projections for the season (3/26), the Jayhawks debuted at No. 25 and remained in the top 45 for the duration of the regular season and No. 46 in the final release. When the NCAA selection committee revealed the 2012 tournament bracket, however, then-No. 44 Kansas became the highest-ranked RPI team with a winning record to not earn a regional bid.
The news was heartbreaking, but not devastating, for a team that rattled off numerous highlights in 2012.
– From Feb. 11- March 15, the Jayhawks did not lose a game as they accumulated a 20-game win streak, the longest in program history. The previous record was 17-straight wins, set in 1992. All 20 games of the historical streak occurred on the road.
– Kansas upset two top-25 teams this season in No. 22/25 Baylor (4/7) and No. 24 Texas Tech (4/28). KU has at least one top-25 win in each of Megan Smith’s three seasons at Kansas.
– The Jayhawks finished the season with a .288 batting average, the second-highest in program history (.311, 1985).
– Kansas received votes on one, the other or both of the national polls during five weeks of the season.
– At the conclusion of the regular season, KU’s offense ranked in the top-five in the Big 12 in batting average (.288, 4th), hits (382, 5th) and doubles (61, 4th). In the circle, KU ranked in the league’s top-five in strikeouts (294, 5th), saves (5, 2nd) and runners caught stealing (12, 3rd).
– KU’s three All-Big 12 honorees marked the most Jayhawks awarded since the 2008 season.
– Of the Jayhawks’ 51 games, 15 were at home, where KU posted a 9-6 record – the most wins at Arrocha Ballpark in the Megan Smith era.
– Junior left fielder Maggie Hull completed the 2012 campaign as a growing icon in KU softball history, earning All-Big 12 First Team and NFCA All-Region First Team honors, the first by a Jayhawk in either category since 2006. She also collected Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-America Third Team honors and All-District First Team after posting a 4.0 GPA during her historical season.
– Hull finished the regular season hitting a Big 12-best .409, breaking KU’s single-season batting average record – a milestone that stood in Kansas history since 1979 (Jill Larson, .400). Her .338 career average checks in at fifth all-time among Jayhawks.
– Hull led the conference in the regular season with 67 hits, seventh-most in KU history and crossed the plate 46 times, good for fourth in the Big 12. Her 46 runs tied another single-season KU record (Rose Rader, 1980).
– Freshman first baseman Maddie Stein was named All-Big 12 Second Team after hitting .371 overall and an impressive .358 in Big 12 action as a rookie.
– Freshman third baseman Chanin Naudin also earned All-Big 12 Second Team honors as she turned in impressive numbers against elite Big 12 competition, leading the team with 15 RBIs in Big 12 play. She drilled KU’s only grand slam of the year in KU’s upset of top-25 Baylor.
– Senior outfielder Liz Kocon drove in all four runs against Big Ten foe Wisconsin (3/3) to break KU’s all-time career RBI record. Previously held by Serena Settlemier, the 2006 Big 12 Player of the Year (117), Kocon’s new record stands at 135 career RBIs.
– Junior shortstop Mariah Montgomery led the team with 45 RBIs this season, which ranked sixth in the Big 12 at the conclusion of the regular season. Her 103 career RBIs rank sixth all-time at KU.
– Freshman pitcher Alicia Pille was named KU’s Pitcher of the Year. Her 17 wins this season tied her for third-most among KU rookies and are the most for a KU pitcher since 2008. Additionally, she turned in eight shutouts. The last Kansas pitcher to blank that many teams in a season was Kassie Humphreys in 2006 and three of those shutouts were one-hitters.
– Head coach Megan Smith collected career win No. 200 in KU’s series-clinching victory against Oklahoma State on March 24. Smith finished the season with a 209-138 overall record and an 83-77 mark in her three years at Kansas.
In a trend that would emerge all season, rain delays started pestering the Jayhawks right out of the gate as KU’s season opener at Southeastern Lion Classic was delayed by nearly six hours. When Kansas finally squared off against Tennessee-Martin, who would later be selected to the 2012 NCAA Tournament field, the Jayhawks fell in their debut. In game two, five runs in the bottom of the seventh mounted a furious Jayhawk comeback against Troy, but fell one run short to drop both games on Feb. 10.
Kansas wouldn’t lose again until March 16 as the Jayhawks rattled off 20-straight wins – the longest win streak in program history.
During the streak, Kansas won four-straight tournaments: Charlotte Classic, Seahawk Classic, Charleston Southern Tournament and the Osprey Classic, knocking off top-100 RPI teams in Wisconsin, Connecticut, North Florida and Stony Brook. Collecting 20-consecutive wins on the road required solid play from top-to-bottom of the lineup, and the Jayhawks responded with 6.5 runs per game using a .338 team average through the span. KU’s pitchers recorded eight shutouts and held teams to an average of 1.5 runs per game.
Following the historical run, KU opened the Big 12 Conference season against four-straight 2011 Women’s College World Series teams in Missouri (3/16-18), Oklahoma State (3/23-25), Oklahoma (3/30-4/1) and Baylor (4/6-7). The Cowgirls from OSU were the only foe KU faced at home – and the Jayhawks took advantage, swiping two of three to claim the series and notching their first back-to-back Big 12 Conference wins since the 2009 season.
From there, KU would split a doubleheader on the road at Missouri State before heading south to face All-American pitcher Keilani Ricketts and No. 7 Oklahoma. Although Ricketts would have the upper hand when she tossed a perfect game in the opener, it sparked the Jayhawks for the entire month of April. KU finished the series hanging nine hits on Ricketts, the most she had surrendered to that point in the season.
KU went on to steamroll through April, going 8-8 as a team including upsets of No. 22/25 Baylor and No. 24 Texas Tech. The Jayhawks hit .320 as a team with 24 doubles and 12 homers. Hull hit at an astounding .528 clip (28-for-53) with seven doubles, while six starters hit .325 or higher. Freshmen duo Naudin and Stein cruised through the month hitting .449 and .420, respectively, and Stein crushed all four of her first collegiate home runs in a red-hot week at home against Iowa State and UMKC.
An emotional senior day that included a walk-off victory against No. 24 Texas Tech, in which Montgomery capped the KU comeback with the winning RBI, concluded KU’s home slate. The Jayhawks honored seniors Kocon, Kelsey Alsdorf, Leah Daiber, Marissa Ingle and Ashley Spenceron the field following the victory.
KU made its final trip to College Station, Texas, as Texas A&M will move to the SEC next season, to wrap up 2012. Kansas battled in a pair of close games to open the series before the top-20 Aggies completed the sweep. A three-run shot from Kocon, KU’s all-time RBI leader, highlighted the weekend before A&M rallied back to take game two, 4-3 in the closest game of their farewell series.
With Smith’s signing classes growing exponentially in strength each season, the head coach only sees her program going up as she readies for her fourth season at the helm in 2013.
HEAD COACH Megan Smith
On not earning an NCAA Tournament bid and learning from that:
“We’re at the point that we watched the selection show (as a team). We haven’t been at that point before. It was disappointing. We felt that we did what we needed to do to get a bid, but it didn’t work out. We didn’t do enough. Our girls seeing that and being disappointed will motivate them this summer and this fall to make sure that doesn’t happen next year. We’re excited about the improvements that we’ve made and the progress we’ve seen. We’re excited with how our upperclassmen stepped up and with our freshmen making an impact. We will be a fun team to watch these next few years.”
On breaking KU’s all-time record with this year’s 20-game win streak:
“You have to remember that we play our first 30 games on the road. We traveled Thursday-Sunday for six-straight weeks. That’s a grind. To put together 20 wins in a row under those circumstances, you don’t really understand how big that is until it’s over and you look back at it. Twenty games in a row where your team is locked in and fighting for the next win shows their mental toughness. That was an exciting thing for us to do.”
On the progress she sees within the program:
“We just want to keep building. Looking at the past three years, we’ve improved every year – huge improvements, too, not just minor ones. The jump we made from last year to this year was exciting to be a part of. I think we’ll make a similar jump next year.”
On kicking off Big 12 play against four-straight 2011 WCWS teams:
“It’s tough to face those teams week-in and week-out, but it’s also fun. It’s a challenge that we enjoy and that’s part of being in this conference. I felt really good about our series against Oklahoma State and we got a win from a really good Baylor team – at Baylor. We made a lot of strides in conference. People may look at the end result and not see it as much, but we beat some teams this year that we haven’t beaten in quite a while. Our hitting numbers in conference showed huge improvement, and offensively, we’re now competing with everyone in our league. Our pitching is young and getting better. Once it matures, we will see even better results in conference.”
On having three players named All-Big 12 (first time since 2008), including a First Team honoree in Maggie Hull (first since 2006):
“It’s good to see more than one player that is capable of producing – and producing that well – in the Big 12 and at the national level. We have several players, not just the three named All-Big 12, but other players that also had a great year. It’s good to get recognized and for fellow coaches to take notice and say Kansas is up-and-coming. The most exciting part is that Maggie Hull has put up huge numbers for the second year in a row to be recognized and then we have two freshmen as well (Maddie Stein and Chanin Naudin); that’s huge for them and for our program.”