Seven straight rainouts weren't what Tracy Bunge had in mind prior to beginning Big 12 Conference play.
"It's very frustrating," said Bunge, now in her ninth season as Kansas University's softball coach. "But we can't control the weather."
Bunge can't control the conference schedule, either, and starting league competition against Texas University in Austin, Texas, after a long layoff isn't ideal, because the Longhorns (25-4) have one of the best pitching staffs in the country.
Kansas (15-9) almost certainly will face UT's Cat Osterman, a pitcher many regard as the best in the country, either in today's 6:30 p.m. opener or in Saturday's 1 p.m. finale.
"The No. 1 thing when you face Osterman is you can't be intimidated," Bunge said. "You have to put the ball in play and lay off stuff out of the strike zone."
Osterman, a 6-foot-2 left-hander, throws a ball that moves at least a foot. The proof is in her strikeouts. She has 249 this season and that's 100-plus more than any other Big 12 pitcher.
Although Osterman has surrendered only 19 hits and boasts an earned-run average of 0.27, she isn't unbeatable. Osterman has dropped a pair of 1-0 games to California and to Long Beach State.
Hot KU bats
It's not like the Jayhawks don't have any offensive punch, either. After posting an all-time school low batting average of .205 last year, KU is hitting .272 overall so far.
"We've been pretty consistent offensively," Bunge said. "I'm most pleased the way we've executed. We're putting the ball in play, and our on-base percentage is up."
Up, too, is the Jayhawks' slugging percentage, now at .431 after a feeble .310 last season.
Shortstop Destiny Frankenstein has been the ringleader of the batting resurgence with a gaudy .400 batting average, .512 on-base percentage and .754 slugging percentage. Frankenstein hit .263 with seven doubles and four home runs in '04. This year she already has 11 extra-base hits (five doubles, six homers).
"She has really simplified her approach," Bunge said of Frankenstein, a junior from Broken Arrow, Okla. "She's relaxed and confident up there. And we've had her all over the lineup, batting anywhere from second to sixth."
Two other junior infielders also are off to fast starts after slumping badly at the plate as sophomores.
Second baseman Jessica Moppin hit just .193 in '04 with a team-high 41 strikeouts. But the Olathe South product has raised her average nearly 100 points (.290) and, like Frankenstein, has 11 extra-base hits (six doubles, five homers).
"Moppin has really matured," Bunge said. "She has said she has her head screwed on straight."
Fierros on fire
No KU player has made more improvement at the plate, however, than third baseman Nettie Fierros, who batted a dismal .124 last season. Fierros, who hails from Avondale, Ariz., boasts a .305 batting average and a .414 on-base percentage.
"Nettie is a totally different player," Bunge said. "She had an awful, awful sophomore year, but she's turned things around."
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise has been Ashley Goodrich, a junior from Kewanee, Ill., who had only 28 at-bats last season. Goodrich, who plays in the outfield and is the backup catcher, is hitting a robust .355 with a glossy .710 slugging percentage while being utilized primarily as the designated player.
"Goodrich has started only six games, but for the last three weeks she's been tearing the cover off the ball," Bunge said.
KU's starting pitcher tonight will be fourth-year junior right-hander Serena Settlemier (7-4, 1.98 ERA). Bunge says she is undecided whether to start soph Kassie Humphreys or freshman Christina Ross in Saturday's contest.
Humphreys was used strictly as a pitcher last season, but Bunge also has been using the 5-11 soph at first base when she isn't on the mound. Bunge sent Humphreys to first base when returning starter Nicole Washburn started slowly.
"Kassie has been swinging a really good bat," Bunge said, "and with Washburn struggling we needed to find our nine best hitters and put them out there."
Ross ERA leader
Humphreys is batting .242 with a home run. On the mound, she's 3-2 with a 2.64 ERA. Meanwhile, Ross has won five of eight decisions and has the lowest ERA on the staff at 1.57.