(Courtesy: KU Athletics)
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Redshirt junior Alex Jones sprinted to the centerfield wall. One out away from defeating a No. 1 team for the first time in program history, the centerfielder never took her eyes off of the ball.
The roar that followed assured starting pitcher Kelsey Kessler (9-6) that Jones had indeed made the catch, sealing Kansas’ (31-16, 6-8) first win over a top-ranked team as the Jayhawks shutout Oklahoma (44-4, 12-2), 2-0, to earn the series split Sunday afternoon at Arrocha Ballpark.
Prior to the home finale, Kansas was 0-5 all-time against No. 1 teams, including a 4-2 loss to Oklahoma in the first game of the day. On Senior Day, however, the Jayhawks came together to hand the Sooners just their second shutout of the season – and make program history in the process.
“We have such a special team and we’ve had some games not go our way this year, and for it to finally happen is kind of like a breath of fresh air for us,” head coach Megan Smith said. “Maybe the monkey is off our back and we can take that next step now. I can’t imagine a better day for the seniors than beating the No. 1 team in the country. I can’t say enough about them. They’ve been a big reason why we’ve been successful year after year.”
Oklahoma came to Lawrence as KU’s first No. 1 opponent since Feb. 16, 2001 (UCLA), and after several rain delays and schedule changes, the three-game series was ultimately moved to a Sunday doubleheader. Unfazed, KU played the nation’s No. 1 team for the last eight-consecutive weeks to a close 4-2 loss in game one before pulling the monumental upset in game two.
Playing for their seniors, it was the freshman class that shined. Freshman shortstop Chaley Brickey went 2-for-3 with the only RBI of the game, when her 12th double of the year brought home fellow rookie, catcher Alex Hugo, in the bottom of the first.
“Our freshmen were phenomenal today,” Smith said. “So the future’s bright for us, as well.”
Riding Kessler’s fifth shutout of the season, Kansas made the lead stand for all seven innings. Kessler, a freshman from Blue Springs, Mo., scattered seven hits over seven innings, walking two and striking out four. She stranded nine total in the win, including four in scoring position.
“Oklahoma is an incredible team and I don’t know if you ever say we deserved it or had it coming, but we’ve played a lot of good teams tough this year,” Kessler said. “So hopefully those games taught us a lot and got us to where we are now. We had a lot of heart going into this game – we wanted it for our seniors.”
In the bottom of the sixth, singles from Brickey and sophomore right fielder Cassen Salamone put Brickey in position to score on a passed ball and push the game to its final score, 2-0.
The senior class still had plenty to do on their special day. Senior left fielder Maggie Hull drilled her 48th career double in the bottom of the sixth to chase senior starter Michelle Gascoigne (16-3) from the game and prompt the return of All-American Keilani Ricketts. Ricketts surrendered the hits to Salamone and Brickey in the sixth before senior first baseman Mariah Montgomery drew her second walk of the game and 101st of her career, second all-time at KU. Following Montgomery’s walk, a fielder’s choice groundout sent the OU offense back to the plate for the top of the seventh.
Kessler was more than ready. When right fielder Brianna Turang led off the seventh with a base hit up the middle, Kessler got Big 12 home run leader Lauren Chamberlain to fly out in foul territory and followed that with a pop up to third. With Turang set and ready to take off from second, Jones tracked down the fly ball off the bat of Shelby Pendley to seal the win.
Kansas will travel to Ames, Iowa to wrap up the regular season at Iowa State. The three-game series is set for May 10-12 with games times at 4 p.m., noon and noon.