COLUMBIA, Mo. – Junior Maddie Stein and senior Taylor Hatfield led Kansas’ early offensive charge that helped the Jayhawks upset No. 19 Nebraska, 3-1, Friday afternoon in the first game of the Columbia Regional at University Field.
The Jayhawks (34-21, 7-11 Big 12) will face Missouri on Saturday, May 17 at 3:30 p.m. with the winner advancing to the Regional Championship. The victory over the Cornhuskers marks the second victory over a Top-25 ranked team in 2014 and improves KU’s record to 15-20 in NCAA Tournament play.
After losing to Nebraska, 1-0, earlier this season, Kansas came out swinging and took an early lead by scoring three runs on three hits in the first inning. The Jayhawks own a 29-5 record in 2014 when scoring first in the ballgame.
Senior Ashley Newman led off the game with a single to third base and stole second to move into scoring position. Stein scored the first run for Kansas with a single to right field, while Hatfield extended the Jayhawks’ lead, 3-0, with a two-run home run to centerfield, her fourth of the season.
Sophomore Kelsey Kessler got the starting nod from head coach Megan Smith in Kansas’ first NCAA Tournament game since 2006. Kessler and the Jayhawk defense carried over the momentum started by the offense into the bottom half of the inning after striking out two of the first three batters she faced.
KU’s defense increased its streak of games without an error to 10 after not committing an error against the Huskers. The Jayhawks fielding percentage improved to .980 on the year, which is tied for the second-best fielding percentage in the country and the best in program history.
Nebraska second baseman Hailey Decker gave the Huskers their first hit of the game with a two-out double in the top of the third inning. The two rosters combined for nine hits with Nebraska outhitting Kansas, 5-4.
Outfielder Kiki Stokes put Nebraska on the board with a RBI single to centerfield in the fourth, which cut Kansas’ lead to two runs. Kessler stranded two more Nebraska runners halting the rally as Kansas took a 3-1 lead into the fifth inning.
Kessler, a Blue Springs, Missouri, native, hurled her 22nd complete game and allowed one run while scattering five hits. She struck out six Nebraska batters en route to her 20th victory of the season in the circle. Kessler’s ERA dropped to 2.36 on the year after tossing six shutout innings in her 34th start of the year.
In the sixth inning, Nebraska threatened again after putting the tying run on base with a pair of hits to open the frame. Kessler stayed cool in the circle and closed down the Huskers’ threat without any harm for her fifth scoreless inning.
Late in the game, Stein hit a double to left centerfield collecting her team-leading 20th multi-hit performance of the season as Kansas opened the Columbia Regional with a, 3-1, win over No. 19 Nebraska.
Kansas continues action at the Columbia Regional on Saturday, May 17 against the winner of Missouri/Bradley at 3:30 p.m. at University Field on the campus of Missouri.
Kansas Head Coach, Megan Smith
“We were really excited to be here and face Nebraska again. It was good to get a rematch with a team we had a very close game with earlier in the season. I felt we came out really strong, were on fire offensively, were locked in and focused, and I felt Kelsey (Kessler) threw a phenomenal game.”
On if Kelsey Kessler is ready to pitch tomorrow…
“I think Kelsey is always good to go. I think she is always ready and wants the ball. She has had a phenomenal season and a great outing today. She will be ready if her name is on the lineup.”
On Kessler’s pitching performance today…
“She was phenomenal today. She showed a lot of grit, which is good to see from your pitcher. She gave up some base runners that she was not happy about. She clawed out of it and showed a lot of fight. It was a great outing for her.”
On possibly playing Missouri in the first matchup between the two schools since Missouri joined the SEC…
“The media has talked about it a ton. We are just happy to play whoever is in the opposite dugout. It doesn’t matter to us. We were excited to get another crack at Nebraska and whoever comes out of Bradley/Missouri, we will be excited to play them. We are going to be locked in and ready to play either team.”
Kansas senior Taylor Hatfield
On the at bat before her home run in the first inning…
“I felt like everyone came out on fire. The single before me was huge. We had already scored, so I came up looking to get another run in. The hit before me gave me more confidence during my at bat.”
Kansas sophomore Kelsey Kessler
On pitching out of tough jams…
“I let a lot of runners on that I probably shouldn’t have. The defense was solid behind me. When runners are on, it makes me focus more on getting the out.”
On the possibility of playing Missouri…
“We’re just excited to get the win we just got. We are excited to play whoever comes out of the next game, whether it’s Missouri or Bradley.”
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