Defense Shines, Kansas Sweeps Cyclones
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas’ defense had another stellar outing to conclude the regular season and along with junior hurler Alicia Pille edged Iowa State, 4-2, Sunday afternoon for the second series sweep of 2014 at Arrocha Ballpark.
The Jayhawks (33-21, 7-11 Big 12) extended their streak to nine games without committing an error. Kansas finished the regular season with only 29 errors and a .979 fielding percentage, which sets a new program record. The program-best fielding percentage is also first in the Big 12 and third in the nation.
“Everything is coming together,” said Pille. “Chaley made some amazing plays and Harli again made some amazing plays. It’s so easy to pitch when the defense is playing like this. They had my back all weekend and it was awesome.”
For the third-straight game, KU outhit Iowa State, 7-6. Senior Ashley Newman was the only Jayhawk to tally a multi-hit game after a 2-for-4 performance. She also recorded a RBI and two stolen bases. Newman has stolen 51 bases in her four-year career and is tied for fourth place all-time in Kansas history.
In the final season at Arrocha Ballpark, the Jayhawks went 10-4 at home, including series sweeps over Big 12 foes Oklahoma State and Iowa State. Kansas will play its inaugural season at Arrocha Ballpark at Rock Chalk Park in 2015.
“This last weekend was about our seniors and bidding farewell to this ballpark,” said head coach Megan Smith. “We wanted to do this park justice and our seniors justice. We did that sending them out on a high note in all aspects of the game.”
Pille set the tone for the final game of the series by sitting down the first three batters she faced in order with a ground out, a fly out and a strikeout. The offense followed suit putting up two runs on two hits in the bottom of the first to a take a 2-0 lead. Junior Maddie Stein plated the first run with a single to centerfield, while freshman Harli Ridling extended the lead after getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
“It’s was nice to get some run support from the beginning because you can relax a little bit,” Pille said. “A little offensive cushion is a good thing.”
Iowa State’s Aly Cappaert answered in the second inning with a solo shot to centerfield cutting Kansas’ lead, 2-1. Pille retired the next two batters without any further harm. Cappaert would finish the day 2-for-3 with a home run, a double and two RBIs.
Pille, a Royse City, Texas native, tossed another scoreless frame in the third with the help of a diving catch in left field from shortstop Chaley Brickey. She hurled a total of five shutout innings in her 10th complete game of the year. She limited ISU’s offense to two runs and six hits, while striking out four. The victory improved her mark in the circle to 12-6.
“Alicia was great against a good hitting Iowa State team,” said Smith. “She came out determined and fought all game, which is what you get from Alicia Pille. She cares and she’s out there for her team. I thought our pitching overall this weekend was phenomenal. Kelsey Kessler and Pille both were great.”
In the fourth, freshman Taylor McElhaney led off with her first career triple. Newman brought McElhaney home giving Kansas an insurance run. Newman’s RBI single up the middle gave the Jayhawks a 3-1 lead after four innings. At the end of the 2014 regular season, Newman has 210 hits in her career, which is fifth all-time in KU history.
For the second inning in a row, the Cyclones leadoff batter got aboard with a single, but Pille would strand both in scoring position ending each inning without an ISU run crossing home plate. Kansas added another run in the fifth inning and led, 4-1. Senior Taylor Hatfield scored from third base on a wild pitch for the fourth KU run of the afternoon.
In the sixth frame, Kansas’ defense tagged a runner out at home and everyone in the infield had a hand in registering the first out of the inning. The Cyclones recorded a single and freshman right fielder Lily Behrmann relayed the ball into the infield, which started a rundown with the runner on first base and ended with the runner on third base being tagged out at home plate. The relay into Brickey was fired over to Stein, who tossed it to Newman. Newman then threw it across the diamond to third baseman Chanin Naudin, who threw it to catcher Harli Ridling in attempt to move the runner back to third base. Newman got the ball back and ran down the runner before she touched home.
“Initially, I was like I shouldn’t have thrown that spot, but then I was trying to back up the play,” Pille said. “As soon as they threw it to Newman, I knew we had it. She’s so fast and it was an awesome play.”
After the runner was tagged out at home, Iowa State scored a run on Cappaert’s double to centerfield. That would be the last run scored by the Cyclones as Pille worked her way out of the inning stranding an ISU runner in scoring position.
In the final inning, Pille sat the batters down in order to clinch the win, 4-2, and the series sweep. Kansas closes out the regular season winning four of its last five games, including three at home.
The selection show for the 2014 NCAA Softball Tournament is Sunday, May 11 at 9 p.m. CT on ESPNU. The field of 64 teams will be announced, who will continue on into the postseason.
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