05/21/2014 6:48 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

Nebraska’s two-run lead seemed tenuous Sunday when center fielder Kiki Stokes stepped into the batter’s box with two runners on base and two outs in the fourth inning of the NCAA Regional final against host Missouri.

After Stokes stroked a three-run blast to right field, there was no doubt the Cornhuskers were poised to complete an improbable four-game run and eliminate the 15th-seeded Tigers.

“That home run … it was like a punch in the gut,” Nebraska coach Rhonda Revelle said.

Stokes’ home run, only her fourth of the season, helped Nebraska become the seventh team since the Super Regional format was adopted 10 years ago to lose its first game then win four in a row to advance as regional champions.

The Huskers lost to Kansas before knocking off Bradley, eliminating Kansas and sweeping Missouri in the two-game Regional final.

“It was something that brought our team together, because we knew what we had to do … and we really came together as a group,” said Stokes, a three-time first-team All-Metro selection during her Olathe East playing days.

Throughout the weekend, Stokes provided a much-needed spark for Nebraska, which opens Super Regional play Thursday at No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. She went six for 14 with seven RBIs, two runs scored and two walks during the Huskers’ five regional games.

“We started her in the leadoff, and she’s got the speed to be in the leadoff, but once we dropped her down in the order … she’s just really come to life,” Revelle said. “But I’ll tell you what, she’s worked for it. When she came to us, she was primarily a drag bunter, so she’s really worked hard to put her swing together.”

Rather than sulk after moving from the leadoff spot to No. 7 in the batting order, Stokes rededicated herself and, as Missouri learned, she’s become a force batting lower in the order.

“Even if I wasn’t in the one hole, I knew I had to make my mark in the seven or the eight or in the nine,” Stokes said. “I just had to contribute to the team and it wasn’t so much about being the leadoff. I can be the leadoff at any spot in the lineup, and it was more important to do my part.”

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.

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