KU softball kept their winning ways going early on in the season after a quality showing at the Aquafina Invitational in Gainesville, FL. After jumbling up the schedule due to unseasonably cold weather, Kansas played Liberty and Illinois State on Friday afternoon, Florida and Mercer on Saturday afternoon, and Illinois State again on Sunday morning. (The Jayhawks were originally scheduled to play Florida twice, which would have been a better measuring stick for them. As it is, I'm sure most of us know it's difficult to judge baseball/softball teams on the basis of one game. Even the 2005 Kansas City Royals won 56 times.)
While in Florida, KU set a new program record for consecutive wins to open a season with 12.
Friday - Game 1 saw Kansas jump on top of Liberty early and never look back. Five KU batters had multi-hit games and the Jayhawks put up 14 hits as a team in a game KU would win 10-4. SS Chaley Brickey led the charge with a 3-for-5 effort with 4 RBI, including a three-run HR. Three Kansas pitchers struggled with their control, allowing 6 walks and 7 hits, but were able to wiggle out of innings without much damage on the scoreboard.
Friday - In Game 2 KU matched up with Illinois State. Staff ace Alicia Pille was the story in this one. Pille earned her sixth win of the season despite being knocked out of the game in the seventh inning after taking a line drive off her hand with two outs left to go in the game. Pille was both brilliant and pedestrian at different points during game once striking out seven of eight batters (Pille recorded 10 K's total for the game), but also giving up eight hits overall, including a home run. Leadoff hitter CF Briana Evans set the table offensively for the Jayhawks with her three-for-four effort.
Saturday - Game 3 was the big matchup with the mighty Florida Gators, defending National Champs and preseason #1. In their first game of the Invitational, Florida run-ruled Liberty (five innings) and had just come off a 4-1 win over Illinois State. (Florida would later go on to run-rule Mercer in five innings as well.)
The Jayhawks were in for an uphill battle facing UF ace (and three-hole hitter) Lauren Haeger. UF put an end to KU's season-opening win streak with a 7-1 victory. The Jayhawks got runners on in each of the first two innings but could not score. UF's Haeger made the Jayhawks pay with a three-run home run to open up the scoring in the bottom of the third inning. KU would load the bases in the fourth with one out, but again would come up empty. Haeger would come up again that inning and double home three more runs, and that was pretty much that.
The Jayhawks did become the first team to score off of Haeger in 2015 when they pushed a run across in the top of the fifth inning. Alicie Pille would pitch the next game a few hours later against Mercer; I don't know why KU didn't start her against Florida instead.
Saturday - KU would meet up with Mercer in Game 4. Alicia Pille put in a dominant performance, scattering three hits and striking out nine in a complete game shutout as KU notched the 2-0 win. LF Shannon McGinley led the Jayhawks offensively with a two-for-three effort.
Sunday - The Jayhawks would rematch with Illinois State in Game 5. In one of the better all-around team efforts so far this year for KU, the ‘Hawks run-ruled ISU in five innings. Alicia Pille once again toed the rubber for KU, striking out four and allowing three hits in the five-inning affair while moving her record to 8-0. Once again, CF Briana Evans set the table for the Jayhawks with a three-for-four effort while SS Chaley Brickey and DH Daniella Chavez both went yard.
It's still difficult to get a good read on the 2015 Kansas softball squad. The 7-1 loss to Florida isn't that bothersome considering that six of Florida's runs came on two hits by one player. That's easy enough to chalk up to a great player having a great game. It happens. I would have liked to have seen KU's best pitcher face that Florida lineup (or even KU's second-best pitcher) but instead, the Jayhawks threw their #3 starter - in her first start of the season no less. Despite all this, Kansas put nine runners on base in seven innings (and did not get run-ruled by the Gators). But overall, we still don't really know how well KU stacks up against quality competition.
If the Jayhawks bothered to return to Lawrence (it's cold, why would they?), they won't be here long. The team returns to Florida this coming weekend for the UNF Home Tournament at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. KU will face Stony Brook, South Dakota, Siena, North Florida, and rematch South Dakota in five games over three days at the UNF Softball Complex from February 27 to March 1. You can catch KU softball on the radio at kuathletics.leanplayer.com.