Home runs aren't everything. Just ask Kansas University softball coach Tracy Bunge.
Last spring the Jayhawks cranked a school-record 37 roundtrippers -- 11 by freshman second baseman Jessica Moppin -- yet settled for a 26-22 overall record, including a disappointing 4-14 mark in the Big 12 Conference.
"Home runs are great," Bunge said, "but I'd rather have two or three base hits than a home run."
KU compiled a team batting average of .218, the lowest by a KU team in 15 years. Moreover, the Jayhawks posted nearly a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
"We've got to put the ball in play a little more," Bunge said. "We've got to cut down on our strikeouts. We have to make a lot of improvement in our offense."
At times last season, Bunge used a lineup that contained as many as six freshmen, so she's optimistic the Jayhawks will improve at the plate next spring.
"Almost all these kids were young and they had not seen that kind of pitching during their high school careers," Bunge said. "I think experience will help them. I think the maturity factor will help a great deal."
Truth to tell, Bunge is more concerned about her pitching staff.
Senior Kara Pierce, who has won 50 games during the last three seasons, underwent minor shoulder surgery in June and was expected to be in rehabilitation for four or five months.
And Serena Settlemier, who posted a 12-7 record and a 1.88 earned run average as a freshman in 2002, still is recovering from the arm surgery that forced her to take a red-shirt season in 2003. Settlemier, who will have to pitch next spring with a steel plate in her right forearm, isn't expected to begin throwing hard again until January.
With Pierce and Settlemier on rehab, Bunge will have only one pitcher -- freshman Kassie Humphreys -- available for the fall exhibition season.
"I've had to change my philosophy for this fall," Bunge said. "Normally, we'd play three or four tournaments. Now we'll play just one because I don't want to use Kassie too much. We can't afford to get her hurt."
Humphreys is Bunge's prize recruit. The 5-foot-11 right-hander from Glendale (Ariz.) Cactus High was named Arizona player of the year by the Arizona Republic, Phoenix's major metro newspaper. Humphreys led Cactus to the large-school state championship by posting a 23-1 record and a minuscule 0.17 ERA. She fanned 249 batters in 164 innings.
"The thing that is exciting about Kassie is she has only been working with a pitching coach recently," Bunge said. "Before she was a drop-ball pitcher and now she has a rise ball to give her a different look. With question marks about our other two pitchers, she'll be a vital part of our team."
Here's a look at the Jayhawks by position:
First base -- Junior Lindsey Weinstein started almost every game despite hitting only .208. She had posted a .268 batting average as a freshman. A solid fielder -- she made only two errors -- Weinstein could be pushed by freshman recruit Nicole Washburn of St. Peters, Mo. "Offensively, she has some potential," Bunge said of Washburn, "but I'm not certain where she'll play defensively."
Second base -- Jessica Moppin led the Jayhawks with 11 home runs and 27 RBIs, but she hit just .266 and her on-base percentage was only .286 because she drew just three walks. "She's not a comfortable hitter deep in the count," Bunge said of the sophomore from Olathe. "She needs to be more patient, but when she's in a zone, no one has more talent than she does."
Shortstop -- Destiny Frank-enstein batted only .214 as a freshman, but led the team with 27 walks and 16 stolen bases. "She was disappointed about her batting average," Bunge said, "but she was a reliable middle infielder. She was very patient, but we'll ask her to be more aggressive at the plate. We need more pop from her."
Third base -- Nettie Fierros came on strong late in her freshman year, finishing third on the club in batting average (.247) and third in home runs (6). "She was a surprise to me," Bunge said. "She had more power than I thought. And she was solid at third base."
Left field -- The candidates are Ashley Frazer, Heather Stanley and Ashley Goodrich. As freshmen last year, that trio hit a combined .195. Washburn may get a long look at this unproductive position. "Whoever is swinging the bat will be out there," Bunge said.
Center field -- Senior Mel Wallach was a fixture, playing in every game and leading the club with a .269 batting average. She was second to Moppin in RBIs (25) and home runs (8). Wallach also led the Jayhawks in strikeouts with 45 while drawing only three walks. "Mel is very streaky, but when she's on she's awesome," Bunge said.
Right field -- Bunge hopes to get a full season from senior Sylvia Pfeiffer. A junior college transfer last year, Pfeiffer started fast, then suffered a thumb injury and her production tailed. Still, Pfeiffer hit four home runs, drove in 14 runs and led the team with a .360 on-base percentage despite hitting only .233. "She was our leading hitter the first three weeks, then we had to sit her for almost a month with that thumb injury," Bunge said. Pfeiffer had minor surgery on the ailing digit during the summer.
Catcher -- Senior Dani May and soph Melaney Torres alternated last season. When May was catching, Torres was the designated hitter. Torres drew 21 walks -- second to Frankenstein -- but hit only .225. Nevertheless, Torres was the only Jayhawk to earn all-league honors. She was named to the second team as a utility player. May, a Lawrence High product, didn't hit (.123) but was OK behind the plate. "Dani had a poor year offensively," Bunge said, "but both are solid and I don't see the rotation changing."