KU softball team wins NCAA regional opener, faces MU next

05/16/2014 3:01 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

Kansas was a strike away from a scoreless first inning Friday but wound up scoring all of its runs before the final out was recorded.

That helped the Jayhawks take a 3-1 victory over Nebraska in the opening game of an NCAA softball regional at University Field.

Jayhawks senior Ashley Newman led off the game with a single but remained stuck at first with two outs.

With junior cleanup hitter Maddie Stein at the plate, Newman swiped second and scored when Stein slashed an RBI single through the right side on the eighth pitch of her at-bat.

“That was huge,” said KU senior Taylor Hatfield, who followed with a two-run home run to center field. “That gave me so much confidence knowing that we had already scored. I just stepped up and tried to get another run in.”

Those three runs were all sophomore Kelsey Kessler needed.

“I thought we came out really strong, on fire offensively, and we were locked in and focused,” Kansas coach Megan Smith said.

Kessler, a Blue Springs graduate, scattered five hits and three walks in her complete-game win.

“I put a lot of runners on that I shouldn’t have, but the defense was solid, 100 percent behind me on everything,” said Kessler, who stranded eight Cornhuskers.

Kessler struck out six. The only blemish was a one-out RBI by sophomore Kiki Stokes, an Olathe East graduate, in the fourth inning.

“She showed a lot of grit, which is good to see from your pitcher,” Smith said. “She was right. She gave them some free bases that she wasn’t happy about and we weren’t very happy about either, but she fought out of it. … It was a great outing from her.”

With two on and no outs in the seventh, Kessler induced Stokes to pop out to shallow left, the key at-bat in the final inning of the Jayhawks’ upset victory.

Next up for KU is Missouri at 3:30 p.m. today. The winner advances to the regional championship game Sunday. The loser faces an elimination game to reach Sunday’s final.

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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