LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas capped off a close conference opening series with a thrilling, 2-1, win over Oklahoma State in extra innings Sunday afternoon at Arrocha Ballpark.
Freshman Taylor McElhaney provided the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning after crossing home plate on a wild pitch, but it was sophomore pitcher Kelsey Kessler ‘s gem that saw the Jayhawks come out on top of the third-straight pitcher’s duel.
Sunday’s victory marked the seventh consecutive Big 12 win for Kansas (27-10, 3-0), which is the second-longest Big 12 win streak for KU since the league’s inception in 1996. The Jayhawks 2-1 win earned Kansas the sweep over the Cowgirls and the best start in conference play since Kansas opened the 1997 season with a 9-0 record.
Kessler tossed five scoreless innings to start the final game of the series and was tested early on, after Oklahoma State loaded the bases in the opening frame. With no room for error and no open bases, Kessler struck out the next two OSU batters to end the inning as the Cowgirls left the bases loaded.
The Blue Springs, Mo., native struck out 13 batters in nine innings pitched. It marks the seventh double-digit strikeout effort this season and second consecutive start where she has struck out 10 or more. Kessler has struck out 202 batters this season.
After tossing eight scoreless innings and surrendering one unearned run in her second start of the weekend, Kessler’s ERA dropped to 1.38 on the year. She leads the Big 12 in strikeouts (202) and has the second-lowest ERA (1.38) in the conference. The victory in the circle improves Kessler to 16-7.
In the fourth inning, McElhaney kept the shutout intact by throwing out the runner at home. Oklahoma State snuck a line drive through the left side and McElhaney threw a laser to home plate as catcher Harli Ridling tagged the runner out to end the inning.
McElhaney carried the momentum of her defensive play over to the fifth inning and reached after getting hit by a pitch. Senior Alex Jones moved McElhaney into scoring position with a perfectly placed bunt down the third base line. Sophomore Chaley Brickey recorded her second RBI of the weekend after hitting a single to left field allowing McElhaney to score the go ahead run.
Oklahoma State tied the game 1-1 in the sixth inning after Shelby Davis drove in the tying run with a double. The unearned run was the first and only run allowed by the Kansas pitching staff in the series. The Jayhawk hurlers tossed 20 scoreless innings against the Cowgirls prior to the run in the sixth frame.
KU had runners in scoring position in the seventh inning, but OSU’s starter Simone Freeman stranded the Jayhawk runners sending the game into extra innings for the second time in the three games. Freeman recorded 12 strikeouts and allowed five hits in eight innings of work.
The Cowgirls called upon Meagan Lively in the ninth inning to shut down the Jayhawks’ offense. The patience of the Kansas hitters late in the game loaded the bases with three walks. McElhaney represented the winning run at third base and was able to score on a wild pitch clinching the win, 2-1, and the series sweep. Lively was charged with the loss and fell to 1-2 in the circle. She threw a third of an inning giving up three walks and a run.
Kansas is back in action for a midweek match-up against Wichita State on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Wilkins Softball Complex.