National Batting Title Highlights 2013: Year in Review
June 7, 2013
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Breaking the Big 12 Conference batting average record, leading the NCAA in hitting and racking up the program’s first victory over a No. 1 team kicks off the long list of highlights from the 2013 Kansas softball season.
- Kansas finished fourth place in the Big 12 Conference, its highest since the 2001 season, and an impressive jump from finishing eighth in the league last season.
- KU’s 34-16 overall record marked the team’s best winning percentage (.680) since the 1992 season when the Jayhawks went 45-10 (.818) and advanced to the Women’s College World Series.
- As a team, KU’s .345 batting average broke the Big 12 Conference record, previously held by Texas Tech (.340, 2011). That also finished the regular season as the highest team batting average in the country.
- Aside from the batting average records, KU also broke the program record for RBIs (277), on-base percentage (.414) and fielding percentage (.976).
- The Jayhawks are likely one of few teams in the NCAA to finish their season on a four-game win streak, including a convincing sweep at Iowa State that saw KU outscore the home team, 32-9.
- In the last 10 games of the season, KU went 7-3 with wins over No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 21/14 Baylor and a sweep on the road at Iowa State.
- KU defeated top-ranked Oklahoma 2-0 on May 5 – marking the first time Kansas has taken down a No. 1 team.
- Senior left fielder Maggie Hull’s .456 batting average record ranks third all-time in Big 12 history and crushed her own record of .409 set last year. The Lawrence native also broke the KU career record, hitting .368 over a span of 210-consecutive starts.
- Freshman Kelsey Kessler was named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Week for the second time this season after shutting out No. 1 Oklahoma. She went 4-0 in KU’s last four games.
- Seniors Maggie Hull and Mariah Montgomery combined for 11 RBIs in the final weekend of the season. Hull won the KU all-time career RBI race with 140, while Montgomery was a close second at 138.
- Kessler made KU history on April 7 in Lubbock, Texas, by throwing a no-hitter against Texas Tech. The no-hit bid was the 23rd in school history and the first since Kassie Humphreys did so against New Mexico on March 11, 2007.
- Kessler went on to become only the second pitcher in the country to shutout the No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners on May 5, leading the Jayhawks to their first-ever win against a top-ranked team.
- Kessler finished the season with a 12-6 overall record and a 7-3 mark in Big 12 play. Only All-American, Team USA pitcher and this year’s Big 12 Pitcher of the Year, Oklahoma’s Keilani Ricketts, had as many shutouts in conference-only games (four) as Kessler did.
- Kessler (12-6) and sophomore Alicia Pille (13-8) are the first pitching duo at KU to each post double-digit wins since 2008.
- Seven of Kansas’ starting lineup finished the season hitting over .300 for the first – and only time – since 1980 when the Jayhawks also had seven starters that hit .300 or better.
Kansas started the season with a bang, run-ruling the eventual ACC regular season champion North Carolina State, at the Florida International Tournament. Two wins against Georgetown of the Big East put the Jayhawks in the championship game. Making the first weekend a memorable one, bad weather stranded the Jayhawks in the Atlanta airport until the following Monday.
KU traveled to SEC country the following weekend, playing in the Tiger Invitational hosted by Auburn. The Jayhawks racked up two more run-rule victories, but fell to Auburn in their first meeting of the year. The teams would meet again less than a week later, and this time the Jayhawks would rally for an incredible comeback. Down 9-4 heading into the seventh, Kansas scored seven runs in the top of the frame to defeat the Tigers, 11-10, for its first win over an SEC foe since 2007.
NC State appeared for the third time on KU’s schedule when the Jayhawks traveled to Raleigh for a chilly Wolfpack Challenge. Kansas cranked out three-straight run rules, including a 20-0 victory against Lafayette – a KU record for runs scored in a game. NC State handed Kansas its only loss of the tournament.
The Jayhawks put it all together at the Florida Atlantic Tournament, going 5-0 with wins over Eastern Michigan and Michigan State before an intense back-and-forth game against Ball State that saw KU pull it out, 8-7. The victory marked the 100th of head coach Megan Smith’s time at Kansas.
Wrapping up the long slate of pre-conference tournaments, which equaled 28-straight road games, KU traveled to Sacramento, Calif., for the Capital Classic. A walk-off home run by>Maggie Hull gave KU a victory over Saint Mary’s, but a loss at Sacramento State ended the Jayhawks’ preseason tournament run.
In what quickly became an increasing trend throughout the season, Kansas’ home doubleheader against Missouri was called off due to weather, pushing KU’s opener at Arrocha Ballpark to the series against No. 8 Texas. Giving up only three earned runs in the series opener, the Jayhawks had the Longhorns down 3-2 heading into the sixth of game two. The Longhorns erupted for 14 runs in the inning for the storming come from behind win. With games two and three set up as a Saturday doubleheader, Kansas quickly rebounded. In the series finale, a two-run homer by the Jayhawks set the tone for a back-and-forth game, but the Longhorns took game three, 5-4, to complete the sweep.
The Jayhawks shook it off in the best way possible, traveling to Lubbock, Texas for their first conference road sweep since 2007. Kansas defeated Texas Tech 4-3 in game one and 3-0 in game two before freshman pitcher>Kelsey Kessler pitched her way into the KU record books in the series finale. Kessler threw a no-hitter, defeating Texas Tech 4-0 and posting the program’s 23rd no-hitter – and the first no-hit bid since the 2007 season.
During the Tech series, Kessler recorded two wins, a save, 19-consecutive batters retired and 15.2 shutout innings to earn Big 12 Pitcher of the Week honors. It marked the first weekly pitching award at KU since 2006.
Inclement weather forced the cancelation of another midweek game as the Jayhawks’ trip to Lincoln to face the nationally-ranked Nebraska Huskers was called off. Losing two of three at Oklahoma State restarted the Jayhawks, setting them up for a fantastic finish to the regular season.
As the regular season wound down, KU went on a tear, winning seven of its last 10 games. That included an upset over No. 21/14 Baylor and a 2-0 victory over No. 1 Oklahoma on Senior Day – Kansas’ first victory over a top-ranked opponent.
Putting the finishing touches on what appeared to be a solid NCAA Tournament resume, Kansas recorded its second conference road sweep of the season in dominant fashion. The Jayhawks outscored the Cyclones 32-9 over the final weekend, including a 12-6 extra-inning victory in game two for the only game KU did not win via run-rule.
The series against the Cyclones ended with the Jayhawks breaking the Big 12 batting average record and leading the NCAA, while Hull crushed her KU single-season batting average record with a .409 in 2012 with a .456 mark in 2013.
Despite the strong finish and long list of broken records, Kansas was denied an NCAA Tournament bid as only three conference teams were selected: Oklahoma, Texas and Baylor, leaving out the fourth-place Jayhawks.
HEAD COACH Megan Smith
On which of 2013’s achievements means the most to her:
“For me, it’s seeing the improvement that we’ve made in the Big 12. Not just the record and the wins and losses, but in the statistics. We know we’re getting more competitive in the Big 12, but now there’s evidence. And not just competitive, but we’re able to win games against the best teams in the country. That’s what stands out the most to me.”
On owning the Big 12 Conference team batting average record and leading NCAA:
“Every program that I’ve ever been a part of has broken records, offensively. That’s something that we take a lot of pride in – in how we train our hitters, in how we work with our offense and it’s fun to see the results. We put a lot of thought, energy and time into what we do during practice and training and hitting review. Coach (Adam) Roorbach puts a lot of time teaching what quality at bats are as well as what will create runs and opportunities for us to score. So it’s nice to see our hard work pay off and it’s also nice for the players that go through it every day to see that it works. Not only are we improving in terms of our own numbers each year, but we’re performing better than other Big 12 teams. I think it’s a testament to our work ethic and the philosophy we have in training the hitters and working on having a well-rounded offense.”
On breaking the program’s fielding percentage and finishing in the top-10 nationally:
“Defensively, we were the best this year that we’ve ever been and we knew that coming in. We knew we had really good players in each position and we were even able to move one of our best defenders to first base to help make our defense stronger as a team. We’re really proud of that fielding percentage, especially when it is such a challenge here when you’re not able to go outside on your field as much as other schools. This year specifically, we were rarely outside for practice and the fact that our girls can perform highly on defense without taking balls off the turf until they show up at the tournament is a big deal. That shows the work they put into the fall to prepare them fundamentally for the spring.”
On>Alicia Pille and>Kelsey Kessler each posting 10-plus wins (first KU pitching duo since 2008 to accomplish the feat):
“It’s great to see. We have known the last few years that our pitching needed to get stronger and needed to get better. Adding (assistant coach) Abbie Sims has helped out tremendously. But I also feel like our pitching staff this year worked extremely well together and really complimented each other. We made it clear from the beginning that it was going to be a staff effort. Having a No. 1, we don’t really talk in those terms. I feel like we had two No. 1’s. With>Alex Jones coming back and doing so well, she was also part of the mix. I’m really proud of the pitching staff and what they were able to do this season. To be able to have a pitcher that can also rank on the conference-only side of things like Kelsey did is tremendous for us.”
On Kelsey Kessler’s breakout second half of her freshman season:
“I was more surprised that she wasn’t more dominant in preconference, to be honest. We had a lot of confidence in Kelsey and I think it took her a while to get her focus and intensity consistently. We saw flashes of it in preconference, but didn’t really see the consistency of it until we hit conference. That’s one of the things that we challenged her to do next season, is to bring that consistency earlier in the year. If she could do that for the entire season, then she will have a very special sophomore season.”
On pulling off two conference road sweeps this season (at Texas Tech, at Iowa State):
“Sweeps are hard to come by in conference. No matter what your record is, it doesn’t matter. It’s hard to sweep. Both of those weekends, we were really on it. The Texas Tech weekend was probably the best weekend of softball we played all season in terms of everything across the board. Obviously, our pitching was dominant and that really helps. At Iowa State, I felt like we had a lot of fight and we played with a lot of pride that weekend and I think it really showed. Iowa State has a good offense and they kind of hit us in the chin a couple times and we bounced right back. I think it really showed the pride that we have.”
On the wide variety of postseason accolades spread amongst several Jayhawks:
“I think they have all been well-deserved and that we’re also very well balanced. We are not a one trick pony, we are good across the board. That’s what made us successful last year and that’s what will continue to move us forward. We don’t just rely on one player, we rely on everyone to contribute. It’s exciting to see the balance we had. One day,>Maggie Hull might be off but>Mariah Montgomery is on and one day she’s off, but>Maddie Stein is on. It’s also fun to see them step up at different times. At Texas Tech,>Chanin Naudin and>Kelsey Kessler carried us. It’s fun to see that from 1-9, we can rely on anyone.”
On saying goodbye to her first full four-year class:
“They are special. When I came here and was sitting in front of new faces who don’t know who you are, it’s tough to get them to buy into what you’re doing. But those three seniors that were here from the beginning >Maggie Hull,>Rosie Hull,>Mariah Montgomery), they bought in. They’re a big reason why we were able to make big strides in four years, because they did buy in and they did believe. They worked hard and bought into the philosophy about what we do. They certainly are good models for that because they approach the game that way. Because of that, they’ve done a lot of good things here that may not get done again for a while. I hope they do, but they might not, and it’s special for me as a coach to watch those things. But I really give the credit to the players, but specifically those three, who have been with me all four years and put forth the effort and the heart to turn it around.”
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