Archive for Monday, May 15, 2006

KU softball team scrambles to Utah

Jayhawks to face BYU Thursday; players frantically re-schedule final exams to fit unusual travel schedule

May 15, 2006

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On Saturday, Kansas University's softball players pulled a stunner by winning the Big 12 Conference tournament.

About 24 hours later, the tables were turned.

When the NCAA announced the pairings for next weekend's 64-team tournament, the Jayhawks were shocked. It wasn't that Kansas was assigned to the three-day, four-team regional in Provo, Utah. It was the timing.

Brigham Young University is the host school and, since the Mormon Church-affiliated school does not schedule athletic events on Sundays, KU will be in a Thursday through Saturday regional instead of a standard Friday-Sunday setup.

"It hurts us an awful lot," KU coach Tracy Bunge said.

The problem is rescheduling final exams. Most of the KU players had made arrangements over the last few weeks to take their exams today and Tuesday, figuring they would leave on Wednesday for an NCAA regional.

However, with a Thursday-Saturday format, the Jayhawks will have to leave Lawrence on Tuesday.

"We're are really scrambling right now because of the exam situation," Bunge said Sunday night. "It's a real hardship on the kids academically."

Mary Beth Marchiony of the KU student support services department has been enlisted to help with the 11th-hour logistics difficulty.

"Mary Beth will be hoofing on campus Monday to hunt down professors," Bunge said, "and she'll be giving quite a few finals while we're on the road."

Kansas, the second seed in the Provo regional, will meet third-seeded BYU on Thursday in the double-elimination meet. Top-seed Washington will meet Southern Utah, the fourth seed, in the other first-round game.

Kansas and BYU met in mid-February - "That seems like another season," Bunge said - at a tournament in Las Vegas, and the Cougars scored two unearned runs in the bottom of the seventh for a 2-1 walk-off victory.

"They're a big, physical team known for swinging the bats," Bunge said.

Serena Settlemier was the losing pitcher despite giving just four hits in 6 2/3 innings, walking none and striking out six.

"Serena did a really good job in that game," Bunge said. "She kept the ball down and away and kept them off-balance with her off-speed stuff."

At that time, no one had any inkling that nearly three months later Settlemier would be named Big 12 player of the year and MVP of the Big 12 tournament.

After leading the Big 12 in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage - not to mention ranking second in earned run average while pitching - Settlemier sparkled in the conference tourney with seven hits, including her 22nd home run, in 13 at-bats. She also was the winning pitcher in one of KU's four tourney wins.

Now, as it turns out, Settlemier will be a beneficiary of the Jayhawks' Thursday-Saturday assignment. Of the six seniors on the team, she is the only one graduating and now will be able to participate in Sunday's commencement exercises at Memorial Stadium.

"That's the positive out of all this," Bunge said. "We'll put her on a red-eye (flight) if we have to in order to get her back because academics is very important to her and her family."

At Sunday's team awards dinner, Settlemier was named - in a real no-brainer - the Jayhawks' offensive player of the year and Most Valuable Player.

Junior pitcher Kassie Humphreys was named defensive player of the year. Also honored were catcher Tiffany Craner (most improved) and reserve Sara Sidebottom (pride award).

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