Archive for Monday, April 23, 2001

KU softball intriguing tale this season

April 23, 2001


Until now, it had been except for the old staple of men's basketball more or less a year to forget in Kansas University athletics.

Football hadn't been so hot, then it was announced men's swimming and tennis would be dropped for fiscal reasons. Other sports were either treading water or, like baseball, sinking out of sight.

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Then the Jayhawks' softball team went on a nine-game sizz while Leah Tabb set a school single-season home run record and Christi Musser of all people turned into Babe Ruth.

Without a doubt, softball has become the feel-good story of the year in Kansas University athletics.

Who would have believed this year's KU softball team would turn into a bunch of window-breakers? The Jayhawks are batting .293 with power and they are composed primarily of the same players who batted .228 overall last year with more Judy than Punch.

In the preseason coaches poll, the Jayhawks were picked ninth which is where they finished in the league race last year with a 5-13 record. Today the Jayhawks are 9-4 in the Big 12.

Everyone knew Tabb, a junior from Oklahoma City, had the potential to be a home-run hitter in college because she established the Oklahoma high school homer record. Still, Tabb did not blossom until this spring.

Then there is Musser. To put what she did in Saturday's first-game win over Iowa State in perspective, well, can you imagine Royals' shortstop Rey Sanchez hitting three homers in one game?

Musser, who had hit a grand total of one home run in 149 previous games in a KU uniform, blasted three balls over the fence at ISU's Southwest Athletic Complex.

"And she could have had four," said Kansas coach Tracy Bunge. "In her third at-bat, they threw away from her and their outfielder caught the ball at the fence."

Musser, a left-hander hitter who has always played in the shadow of her faster and more aggressive identical twin sister Shelly, launched a solo homer in the first that "may have been helped" by the wind, Bunge said.

But in her second at-bat, Musser belted one that fell just shy of the scoreboard located about 25 feet behind the right-center field fence. Then after that flyout to the fence, Musser bounced one off the scoreboard in her fourth trip to the plate.

"That last one was a cannon shot," Bunge said.

How unusual was Musser's three-homer game?

"In all the years I've played softball and coached softball, I've never seen it," Bunge said. "In fact, she may have tied a national record. We're going to look into it."

Just don't ask Bunge to explain how Musser hit those three homers in one game. It was simply one of those delightful, unexpected occurrences that make sports so interesting and enjoyable.

"I'm just so proud and pleased for her," Bunge said. "She's gone through so much adversity with her health."

It wasn't until a few months ago that Musser learned she had diabetes. Once she began taking insulin and watching her diet, Musser began to gain strength.

"She's put between 10 and 12 pounds back on and it's good weight," Bunge said. "But I don't know where the power came from. I don't know what to say."

When the gabby Bunge doesn't know what to say, it's news. At the same time, when the introverted Musser has something to say, it's news.

Tabb, one of her roommates, tried to get her to call her parents in Scottsdale, Ariz., after her monumental performance, but she wouldn't because the Jayhawks had another game to play in the twinbill.

However, Musser did call her folks after the doubleheader she had two singles in the nightcap to give them the news.

"I said I had a pretty good day and that I had homered," she related. "They were real excited, and I said, 'Yeah, but not as exciting as hitting three.' They thought I was joking."

Musser had hit one home run while in high school so on Saturday she hit more home runs in one game than she had hit in her entire career.

"I'm probably more shocked than anyone else," she said.

The feel-good girls will be back at Jayhawk Field this weekend for a two-game series against defending NCAA champion Oklahoma.

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