Down, Not Out: No. 25 Kansas Rallies Past Siena
JACKSONVILLE, Florida – A winless Siena College pushed No. 25 Kansas to the brink of certain loss with a six-run outburst in the top of the fourth inning Saturday morning, but the Jayhawks exploded with seven runs of their own in the bottom half, including a grand slam from Daniella Chavez in a 9-7 KU win.
Siena (0-8) batted around, and battered around four different Kansas (17-1) pitchers, in a nightmare fourth inning, but KU’s freshman designated player blasted her third home run, and second grand slam, of the season to cap a Jayhawk answer. Kansas ace Alicia Pille made an unexpected appearance out of the bullpen and struck out six batters in a three inning save, her second of the season.
Both teams combined for eight of the game’s 16 hits, pushed across 13 of the game’s 16 total runs and saw 20 plate appearances in the fourth, with the big fly giving Kansas the edge.
“Our defense kind of wore it for an inning and I think they were determined to go up and get them back,” Kansas head coach Megan Smith said. “We got a big punch in the gut from Siena, they had a great inning. Then our offense came out more focused and stuck to the game plan that inning, as opposed to the beginning of the game.
“Unfortunately for us, sometimes it takes getting hit in the face for us to come out and attack, and it was the same thing today. I challenged our team to come out and do it from the beginning, but we’re struggling with that right now. I’m certainly happy with the toughness and the bounce-back that we showed offensively.”
Kansas put its leadoff on in each of the first five innings but managed just one run in each of the first two frames to support freshman Bryn Houlton in her first career start. Houlton held Siena at bay the first time through the order, working around two-out base runners in the first two innings before retiring the Saints in order in the third.
Houlton, who threw seven scoreless innings of relief Friday to earn her first win, finally saw her streak of innings without an earned run to start her young career end at 13.1 when she ran into trouble in the fourth. Houlton walked the leadoff and back-to-back hits, including a double by Chelsey Drew, cut the Kansas lead in half at 2-1.
Kansas turned to its bullpen for relief and got a ground ball on the infield with Beth Wilson in the circle, but Taylor McElhaney’s throw from second base to get the lead runner at home was to the first base side of the bag and the game was tied with Paige Hess sliding in safely.
The game just unfurled further into a soggy mess from there.
Wilson was chased after surrendering a run-scoring single to Lauren Milligan in the next at-bat. Monique Wesley walked the first batter she faced and gave up another run scoring single before she was lifted. Siena plated two more on a wild pitch and an illegal pitch against Sophia Templin, before she finally induced a pop out to second for the inning’s first out, then retired the next two to help Kansas limp out of the top half.
In the end, Siena turned a 2-0 deficit into a 6-2 lead with the first seven Saints batters reaching. Siena scored all six runs before the first out was recorded.
“I thought Bryn did well, started off well,” Smith said. “She hit a rough patch and we trusted our bullpen, but they did not come through today. It was a brutal performance from our bullpen and finally Sophia came in and got swings and misses, and miss-hits. That’s what we needed, then our offense caught on fire.
“That inning was a rough inning, and disappointing to see from our pitchers out of the bullpen.”
With a heavy mist starting to fall, Kansas didn’t waste any time licking their wounds before going to work.
A determined Shannon McGinley marched into the box and smacked a single through the left side – KU’s fourth leadoff batter to reach. Freshman catcher Jessie Roane followed with her own line drive to left field – one of her game-high three hits – and both moved into scoring position on a sacrifice by Taylor McElhaney.
Briana Evans drew a walk to load the bases and Lily Berhmann walked in a run for the second time in the game to cut the deficit to 6-3. Kansas slugger Chaley Brickey nearly hit a grand slam herself when a deep fly ball went foul over the cages in left field, but settled for a two-RBI single to center to pull Kansas within one at 6-5.
Siena went to the bullpen and replaced starter Amanda Gatt (0-3) with Antonia Edwards. Edwards retired Maddie Stein on a sharp grounder back to the circle, but hit Chanin Naudin to load the bases for Chavez, who punched a ball over the right center wall to clear the bases.
The Saints weren’t done and came back in the fifth to tag Templin with a leadoff single and drew a walk. That’s when the Kansas coaching staff said enough is enough and put in Pille to close the game. Siena scored one after loading the bases on a fielding error and RBI single by Paige Lloyd, but Pille struck out the final two batters to keep the Jayhawks up by two.
Pille, who threw a one-hit shutout Friday evening in a 1-0 Kansas win over North Florida, cruised from there, fanning another two in the top of the sixth en route to retiring the last eight straight batters she faced.
“Unfortunately we had to go to her this morning, but she came in and did a great job under some really adverse weather conditions and did exactly what she normally does for us,” Smith said. “She hits her spots and goes right after hitters and attacks them. We needed her and she came through big time.”
Wet conditions persisted throughout the afternoon, causing a delay in the start of Saturday’s second game, which was halted twice before finishing. Kansas was slated to play South Dakota Saturday but that game was cancelled due to unplayable field conditions. The Jayhawks and Coyotes will meet Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m. (CT) in KU’s UNF Tournament finale.
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