Missouri’s dominance against Kansas on the softball diamond survived a two-year hiatus.
Meeting head-to-head for the first time since 2012, when KU athletics vowed not to schedule its archrival after MU left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers roughed up the Jayhawks 6-3 on Saturday and earned a spot in today’s NCAA regional final.
“Obviously, we’re very pleased that we’re in the winner’s bracket,” Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. “That’s a difference-maker, especially when you’re running on two arms. So, I’m proud of our girls and we’re looking forward to playing for another regional championship (today).”
Before a near-capacity crowd — and a feisty one at that — the No. 15 seed Tigers, 43-16, blasted a pair of two-run home runs and never trailed in the Border War revival.
Of course, players on both sides continued to downplay the significance of Missouri playing Kansas again.
“It was just another game for me,” Tigers freshman catcher Kirsten Mack said. “It was nothing more, nothing less — other than it was a regional game and we’re trying to stay in the winner’s bracket and get to the championship game.”
Earleywine, a Jefferson City native, seemed to understand that the win was more than a typical regional victory.
“I think something you have to factor in is that … when you recruit kids from out of state, sometimes they don’t understand the significance and the depth of the rivalry between two schools,” Earleywine said.
Mack’s two-run home run to left against Kansas ace Kelsey Kessler, a Blue Springs graduate, got the Tigers on the board in the second inning.
“I personally thought that that was the backbreaker,” Earleywine said. “To me, that was the at-bat that personified that whole game. … I felt the steam come out of (Kansas) after that happened.”
One pitch before the home run, Mack rocked a deep drive down the left-field line, which was ruled foul, but she straightened up the 12th pitch of the at-bat for a 2-0 lead.
“I was seeing her good and I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit,” Mack said. “I was fouling her off, fouling her off, and finally I got a good pitch I could get my hands inside the ball with and drove it.”
Junior Angela Randazzo, who led Missouri with three hits and three RBIs, drove in a run with a third-inning single, then crushed a two-run homer in the fifth that also hugged the left-field line, increasing MU’s lead to 5-0.
Kansas broke through in the fifth on sophomore Chaley Brickey’s RBI fielder’s choice, but Missouri tacked on an insurance run in the seventh when Corrin Genovese pulled an RBI grounder to shortstop, ensuring that Brickey’s two-run homer in the bottom of the inning was merely cosmetic.
Missouri has won eight straight against Kansas and 13 of the last 14 meetings, including a three-game sweep in the last series as Big 12 foes during which the Tigers outscored the Jayhawks 24-0.
MU freshman left-hander Casey Stangel rebounded from a five-run seventh inning Friday against Bradley and twirled a complete-game gem. She scattered seven hits and two walks with one strikeout.
“I recruited her so much that I saw her pitch in a lot of big games, and the bigger the game, the better she did,” Earleywine said. “So, it wasn’t a big surprise to me. She likes the stage. She likes the limelight, so all that stuff came very natural to her.”
Stangel, who recorded 15 outs on the ground, wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the first and induced an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the sixth. She also stranded two runners in the third inning.
“She was keeping the ball down, and we weren’t making adjustments as well as we should have,” Jayhawks junior Maddie Stein said.
Kansas, 34-23, was eliminated Saturday night with a 2-1 loss against Nebraska, 42-16, which earlier in the day knocked off Bradley 9-0 in five innings.
The Tigers and Cornhuskers meet in the regional final at noon today. Missouri needs one win to advance to the NCAA Super Regional for a seventh straight season, while Nebraska must win twice.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.