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Archive for Saturday, April 22, 2006

Nation’s best pitchers to tangle at Arrocha

April 22, 2006

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Who'll pitch against whom?

That's the intriguing question as Kansas University prepares to tangle with national power Texas in softball this weekend.

One thing is certain: Patrons will witness four of the best pitchers in the Big 12 Conference, if not the country, in games today (12:30 p.m.) and Sunday (noon) at Arrocha Ballpark.

"They'll be dogfights," KU coach Tracy Bunge said. "One break will probably decide the games."

Texas, cruising with an outrageous 44-4 overall record (10-1 Big 12) features Cat Osterman, who is in a league of her own with a 28-1 record, 0.32 earned-run average and an eye-popping 15.6 strikeouts per game.

"Osterman," Bunge said, "is one of the best left-handers in the world."

Only slightly overshadowed by Osterman is right-hander Meagan Denny, who has a 16-3 record, 1.58 ERA and averages 9.76 whiffs per game.

Meanwhile, Kansas' two circle standouts - Kassie Humphreys and Serena Settlemier - rank 2-3 in league ERA at 1.27 and 1.36.

Bunge won't announce today's starter until just prior to game time. If it's Humphreys, Settlemier will pitch Sunday's game. And vice versa. Texas coach Connie Clark is in the same mode with Osterman and Denny.

"If it's Humphreys against Denny," Bunge said, "you'll see the hardest throwers in the country. If it's Osterman against Serena, you'll see two pitchers with great ball movement."

Regardless, pitching purists couldn't ask for more.

On offense, Texas boasts a higher team batting average than the Jayhawks - .271 to .250 - and the Longhorns have more than twice as many stolen bases (84 to 41) as Kansas, but KU boasts one of the nation's most feared sluggers in Settlemier.

Settlemier leads the league in home runs (20), runs batted in (57) and slugging percentage (.874).

With a minimum of 10 games remaining, she is threatening the Big 12 home run record of 22 set by Ali Viola of Nebraska in 1998.

"She's been amazing," Bunge said of Settlemier, a fifth-year senior from Kelso, Wash.

Yet Settlemier hasn't been carrying the Jayhawks during their five-game winning streak.

"Our hitting has been more potent," Settlemier said, "because our young kids are gaining confidence. I don't think we'll be intimidated when we play Texas."

All in all, though, the key will be inside the circle where Settlemier and Humphreys will have to be in peak form.

"We just have to go out and throw our game," Humphreys said.

"We just have to go out and throw our pitches and not worry about who's batting."

With five wins over a six-day stretch, the Jayhawks (26-20 overall, 5-6 Big 12) do have momentum.

"We're in the position we want to be," Bunge said, "if you can be in a good spot when the No. 2 team in the country is coming in."

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