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Archive for Saturday, May 6, 2006

Senior sendoff on tap

Settlemier among six Jayhawks to bow out against Cyclones

May 6, 2006

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Serena Settlemier's mother and father will come all the way from Kelso, Wash. Settlemier's older sister and her husband will be here, too.

Settlemier and five other Kansas University softball seniors will be playing at home for the last time this weekend when the Jayhawks tangle with Iowa State.

Game times are 2 p.m. today and 1 p.m. Sunday at Arrocha Ballpark.

"I think I'm excited," Settlemier said about her home swan songs. "It's a lot of pressure, though, with your family watching."

Not that Settlemier panics in the face of the P-word. In fact, she produces under pressure more often than not. Case in point: her two-run homer after a two-hour rain delay that gave the Jayhawks a 2-1 victory Wednesday over Wichita State.

"The thing about Serena," KU coach Tracy Bunge said, "is you look at the number of clutch hits she's had in her career, especially this year."

Settlemier has come to the plate with the bases loaded eight times this season and homered in six of them. Her half-dozen grand slams are surely a national record, but the NCAA doesn't maintain that statistical category.

"She's been a pressure player," Bunge said. "She thrives when the pressure is on."

Every time Settlemier homers or drives in a run, she adds to her school single-season and career records. She leads the Big 12 Conference with 21 homers, 59 RBIs and an .826 slugging percentage.

"I've never been a part of such a spectacular year," said Bunge, who has been a college player and coach for nearly 25 years. "Her slugging percentage is out of this world."

Then there is Settlemier's pitching. She's no Cat Osterman in the circle, but Osterman, the left-handed Texas super pitcher, is the only Big 12 hurler who has a lower earned-run average than Settlemier, who will go into this weekend with a 15-6 record and a 1.27 ERA.

"She's been very solid on the mound," Bunge said. "She wants the ball. She likes pitching under pressure."

There's the P-word again.

Settlemier's mental toughness may have been nurtured through several periods of physical duress. Her injury woes started early. She missed fall ball during her freshman year because of a shoulder injury, but made her college debut in the spring of 2002 and was the Jayhawks' best hurler with a 12-7 record and a 1.88 ERA.

Little did anyone know Settlemier never would pitch with that effectiveness again until this spring. It has taken her that long to recover completely from having a steel plate placed in her right forearm to help knit bones.

That unusual surgery - the plate remained for 18 months - forced her to take a medical red-shirt during the 2003 season.

"The doctor told her he had never performed that surgery on an athlete, much less a pitcher," Bunge said. "He said he wouldn't have done it if it wasn't a functional problem. Serena couldn't take notes in class. She couldn't wash her hair."

Over the last few years, Settlemier also has experienced back and hip pain caused, in part, by her unusual pitching motion.

"She basically has lived in the training room," Bunge said.

The five other KU seniors also have been contributors. Shortstop Destiny Frankenstein and second baseman Jessica Moppin rank 2-3 behind Settlemier on KU's career-homer list.

Outfielders Heather Stanley and Nettie Fierros have been regulars, while outfielder Ashley Goodrich has been a part-time player.

"Serena has been the highlight," Bunge said, "but the whole crew are six very impressive people who have given a lot to the program."

Kansas (28-24 overall; 6-10 Big 12) needs to sweep Iowa State (23-25, 5-11) in order to have a chance to avoid a play-in game at next week's Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City. The Jayhawks are in seventh place, and the top six teams in league standings earn first-round byes.

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