Pille, Kansas Rebounds with 2-0 Win Over Mercer

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GAINESVILLE, Florida – Kansas starter Alicia Pille scattered three hits and struck out nine to help Kansas rebound from its first loss of the season with a 2-0 victory over Mercer at Pressly Stadium Saturday night.

Pille allowed just five base runners and pitched her third shutout of the year, dueling with Mercer starter Kirsten Stevens until the Jayhawks (13-1) scratched across a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth. Mercer put a pair on to lead off the top of the second, and moved both into scoring position before Pille wrapped a pair of strikeouts around a soft liner back to the circle to nullify the threat.

“I was just thinking I really needed to focus on hitting my corners of the plate after that point and just bear down for my team,” Pille said. “I knew they were going to come through and hit for me, that’s what we do. That kept going through my mind – I wanted to be big for them and it ended up working out.”

Pille, who took a liner off her throwing hand in Friday night’s win over Illinois State – a 10 strikeout effort – gave the Jayhawks the boost it needed after watching its team-record-setting 12-game win streak come to an end at the hands of tournament host and No. 1 Florida just minutes before.

“I thought Pille showed a huge amount of toughness tonight,” Kansas head coach Megan Smith said. “She got in that jam and came through for her team and held it scoreless long enough for us to create something offensively. Then, she just shut it down. She did an excellent job against a really good hitting team.”

Kansas’ starter received a boost from her defense before the offense finally came around. On back-to-back plays in the third inning, Kansas saw right fielder Lily Behrmann dive for a ball only to see it drop then threw out the would-be baserunner at second base from her knees in right. In the next at-bat, Taylor McElhaney snagged a ball on the run near the end of the first base dugout and crashed through a bullpen gate in the process.

The Jayhawks had multiple base runners in the game, but finally came through in the bottom of the fifth when they loaded the bases. Stevens misplayed a ball back to the circle off the bat of Briana Evans, who sped safely to first while plating one. Lily Behrmann singled through the circle next to score the game’s second run.

“I have to give credit to (Stevens), she’s a really talented pitcher and does a lot of good things,” Smith said. “We knew we were going to have a little bit of trouble with her. She certainly pitched a heck of a game.

“Offensively, we couldn’t get in a rhythm and that inning we just had a little life breathed into us and made some things happen – forced a couple things. Briana, with her speed, caused them to rush a little bit, make a mistake, which helped us score a run. Gosh, I don’t know if I’ve ever scored two runs in a game when we didn’t hit a ball out of the infield – that might be a first. I’m just glad that we were scrappy enough to pull something through for Pille, because she had a good performance.”

That’s all Pille would need. Mercer put a pair on in the sixth before fouling out, then Pille fanned two more in a perfect seventh. KU’s Shannon McGinley was the only player in the game to collect more than one hit. McGinley went 2-for-3 and scored the go-ahead run.

Kansas closes play at the Aquafina Invitational with a 8 a.m. (CT) meeting with Illinois State Sunday.

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