Stein’s Walk-Off Grand Slam Completes No. 23 Kansas’ Rally
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Senior utility Maddie Stein entered the batter’s box with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the seventh frame as No. 23 Kansas trailed by three runs and she delivered yet again for the Jayhawks as she blasted a long ball over the centerfield wall. Stein’s walk-off grand slam gave KU the 5-4 victory over Nebraska-Omaha Sunday afternoon inside Arrocha Ballpark.
The Jayhawks’ late-inning rally marked the fifth time this season that KU has come from behind to claim the win. Kansas (24-2) swept the Jayhawk Invitational (3-0) with its late-inning heroics, marking their fourth tournament sweep of the 2015 season.
“Maddie came through big time for us,” head coach Megan Smith said of Stein’s final at-bat. “I am always confident when Maddie steps into the box and I knew she was going to do something good. I wasn’t expecting it would be a grand slam, but I knew she was going to hit the ball well. She came through for the team big time today.”
Stein’s grand slam is Kansas’ eighth base clearing home run of the year. Along with registering the game-winning hit, Stein inched closer to becoming the Jayhawks’ all-time RBI leader after collecting her sixth multi-RBI effort. She currently has 136 career RBIs and is just five shy of the record, which is 140 and held by former teammate Maggie Hull-Tietz.
With one out in the bottom of the final inning, sophomore infielder Taylor McElhaney kept the Jayhawks’ hopes of a comeback alive with a single up the middle. KU’s rally continued after junior outfielder Briana Evans ran into the Mavericks first baseman, who had the ball in her glove, but the ball popped out upon impact with Evans, allowing her to remain on base due to the error. Sophomore Lily Behrmann loaded the bases with her team-leading 22nd walk of 2015. A fielder’s choice momentarily halted the momentum as Omaha recorded the second out, but the Jayhawks kept the bases loaded as Stein stepped into the batter’s box. Her second grand slam of the year gave Kansas the come-from-behind victory.
“We knew Omaha was going to be a tough team and we wanted to end the weekend well,” said Stein. “I felt like I was trying to do too much in my first three at-bats with the wind blowing and the crowd cheering, so I wasn’t happy with the first few. I was trying to stay calm and collected, I knew whatever pitch I was going to hit, I was going to hit it hard. I was just hoping to get something it the gap and it went for me.”
In the third inning, McElhaney tried to get something going for the Jayhawks on offense by showing off her wheels after placing a bunt down the third base line and reaching first base only seconds before the throw to first base. Just two pitches later, McElhaney took off and stole second giving the Jayhawks their first runner in scoring position, but KU couldn’t convert as Omaha retired the next three Jayhawk batters.
A pitchers’ duel ensued for the first three innings with both teams combining for just four hits. It wasn’t until the fourth inning that the first runs were recorded by the Mavericks. Junior outfielder Shannon McGinley came close to robbing Omaha’s Campbell Ditto of a two-run home run after leaping and nearly snagging the ball before it sailed over the left field fence, which resulted in the Mavericks taking a 2-0 advantage headed into the bottom half of the fourth frame.
Omaha continued to increase their lead over the next two innings after plating a run in the fifth and sixth innings to take a 4-0 lead over Kanas after the first five and a half frames.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Jayhawks’ offense heated up with a long ball from Behrmann. The Overland Park, Kansas native ripped one over the centerfield wall, her third of the season, on the first pitch to register KU’s first run of the game, closing Omaha’s lead to just three runs.
“If you’ve watch us play at all this year, you know we are fighters,” said Smith. “I told the team before the season for us to win games this year, we’re going to have to fight and claw every single pitch to be able to come out with wins. We had to work together today to do it and our pitching staff showed that. The pitchers worked together to do well, defense was very solid and our offense worked together. In the end, it worked out and that’s what is going to happen with us, we are going to keep fighting until the end. You can’t think you’ve won a game against us because we are going to keep fighting.”
Senior hurler Alicia Pille started in the circle for the third time this weekend and collected eight strikeouts in five innings of work. On the weekend, she threw 17 total innings and allowed three earned runs, while striking out 21.
Sophomore Sophia Templin replaced Pille in the top of the sixth and held Omaha to just two hits in the final two innings. She earned the win and improved to 3-0 on the season, while the Mavericks’ ace Kat Barrow recorded the loss after striking out five in a complete-game effort.
The Jayhawks face Indiana State on Tuesday, March 17 at 3 p.m. for a midweek match-up before hosting the Rock Chalk Challenge March 20-22 at Arrocha Ballpark at Rock Chalk Park.
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