Too Close for Comfort, Kansas Prevails for Seventh Straight
LAS CRUCES, New Mexico – Kansas scratched across a run in the first inning then collectively held its breath until a grand slam from Chanin Naudin in the last inning gave the Jayhawks more than enough to win its seventh-straight contest in a 6-0 shutout of New Mexico State in the Troy Cox Classic Friday evening.
Kansas starter Alicia Pille (4-0) notched her second consecutive shutout, following up a run-rule shortened no-hitter Sunday with a more strenuous, five-hit effort against the tournament host at NMSU Softball complex. Pille retired the side in order in just one frame – the bottom of the second – and New Mexico State (3-3) was able to put a runner in scoring position in each of the final five innings. Somehow, the crafty ace found a way to wiggle out of each jam, stranding a total of nine Aggie runners, and Naudin helped relieve the stress with an opposite-field, base-clearer in a five run Kansas seventh.
“Man, that was a lot closer than what the score says, a nail biter the whole way.” Kansas head coach Megan Smith said. “Both teams played extremely well, both pitching staffs did extremely well. For us, we just had a big, clutch hit in the seventh that kind of put it away. I couldn’t be more proud of Pille and her fight against such a great offensive lineup that New Mexico State has.”
Kansas scraped together just three hits after run-ruling Bradley in the tournament’s first game earlier Friday, and plated its first run without any in the top of the first. KU took a 1-0 lead over New Mexico State when an errant throw by the catcher allowed Lily Behrmann to score from third, after she was hit by a pitch and advanced around on a pair of groundouts.
At one point, Pille retired seven straight from the first inning through two outs in the third, but Emma Adams gave New Mexico State its first base hit and Staci Rodriguez followed with one of her own. Facing a runner in scoring position and the clean-up batter at the plate, Pille got a swinging strikeout from Aggie slugger Fiana Finau to end the threat.
New Mexico State led off the fourth with a single down the left field line and the pinch runner got all the way to third with one out before Pille, again, bore down and this time struck out two Aggie hitters to squirm away.
It was the same story in the fifth, after KU’s offense went down in order, Rachel Rodriguez led off with a single for New Mexico State and a one-out walk put her in scoring position. Again, Pille got a fly out to Taylor McElhaney at second base, then fanned pinch hitter Lacey Rother for her sixth of seven total strikeouts in the game.
The Jayhawks didn’t get their first base knock until Maddie Stein doubled to the wall in right center to lead off the top of the sixth, but couldn’t cash it in for a run – just adding to the intensity.
Pille got the leadoff in the bottom of the sixth, but Malena Padilla smacked a double to left center to again give NMSU a runner in scoring position. This time, Pille let her defense do the work and a lineout to Chaley Brickey at short caught Padilla off the bag at second for an inning-ending double play.
Kansas finally broke through in the top of the seventh and loaded the bases with one out. Maddie Stein nearly cleared them all with a shot down the right field line that hooked foul, then settled for one as she walked to push Jessie Roane across. Up 2-0, Naudin stepped into the box and hammered the first two pitches foul before sending the 0-2 offering from Karysta Donisthorpe over the fence and under the scoreboard in right center.
“The previous at-bats I got jammed a little bit, so I was determined not to get jammed again,” Naudin said. “The first two pitches were inside and I just hit them foul, only by a couple feet, but I was taking some hard swings. I was going to hit it hard, regardless of what happened. I was going to be sure I wasn’t late on it. It seemed like they were coming right at me. This time it was an outside pitch, I hit it hard, extended through it and it worked out.”
Kansas led 6-0 after plating five runs on two hits, but the game just wouldn’t end right without a little struggle for Pille to work through in the seventh. A total of three batters reached in the bottom half for NMSU, but Pille struck out Adams and got Rodriguez to fly out to left to end the game.
“That was such a long game,” Pille said. “We did really well, and our defense did amazing, I just feel like I threw way too many pitches. That’s life – sometimes you’re sharp and sometimes you’re not. I think we made it work with what I had today and we came out with the win.”
Pille held the Aggies, who entered with a .387 team average and hit 14 home runs in five games to open the season at NMSU Softball Complex last weekend, to 1-for-13 (.077) with runners on base and a paltry 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
Briana Evans was the only other Jayhawk with a base hit in the game, reaching on a single up the middle in the seventh to put runners on the corners before scoring on Naudin’s grand slam.
Coupled with Pille’s no-hitter against Penn State Sunday and Monique Wesley’s shutout win over Bradley earlier Friday, the pitching effort moved Kansas to a combined 17 consecutive scoreless innings, and improved the Jayhawks’ best start since opening the 2011 season with a program-record 10 straight wins.
“If they don’t let them score, we’re going to win,” Smith said of her pitching staff. “It’s a tough task nowadays for a pitcher to throw a shutout, especially against such a powerful offensive team. Today both our pitchers came out and did their jobs, and did it to the best of their ability. It gives us a lot of confidence moving forward.”
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