Archive for Thursday, May 18, 2006

Defense key for KU softball in NCAAs

May 18, 2006

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— In football, they say offense sells tickets, and defense wins games.

That may go double for softball - particularly for Kansas University.

While the Jayhawks boast an offensive drawing card in Serena Settlemier, the Big 12 Conference's home run and RBI leader, quality defense quietly has also helped KU earn a spot in today's first-round NCAA Tournament contest against Brigham Young University.

Game time is 5 p.m. at Miller Park on the BYU campus.

If it weren't for at least three sparkling fielding plays, KU might not have knocked off Oklahoma, 4-2, in the Big 12 tournament championship game Saturday in Oklahoma City.

"Defensively, we made plays that championship teams make," KU coach Tracy Bunge said, "and it wasn't just one person."

In the third inning, shortstop Destiny Frankenstein rifled a throw to first after corralling a ground ball by OU's speedy Kristin Vesely.

In the fourth, second baseman Jessica Moppin ranged far to her right to snag a grounder, then spun and threw out OU's Susan Ogden.

In the fifth, freshman third baseman Val Chapple made a diving stop to her left to spear a grounder, then scrambled back to the bag for an inning-ending force out.

Finally, in the same frame, pitcher Kassie Humphreys cleanly gobbled a couple of ground balls that she turned into crucial force outs.

Kansas was charged with only two errors in the four games it won at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. That's one fewer than the Jayhawks committed in an early season loss to BYU.

In mid-February at a tournament in Las Vegas, KU was guilty of three miscues in a 2-1 loss to the Cougars. One of the mistakes proved costly. An error by Frankenstein allowed BYU to score two runs with two outs and notch a walk-off, one-run win.

"Destiny played the most horrendous defense I've ever seen her play in that game," Bunge said. "She was really struggling with her confidence then."

As a junior last season, Frankenstein was a vacuum cleaner at short, committing only six errors in the Jayhawks' 55 games. However, the senior from Broken Arrow, Okla., matched that total in the first 20 games this spring and has 11 at this stage.

Notably, though, Frankenstein hasn't been guilty of a miscue in the last 16 games. During that span, KU has posted a 12-4 record. Second baseman Jessica Moppin is also errorless during that hot streak, as is center fielder Stevie Crisosto.

It's not a coincidence, either, that Tiffany Craner became the Jayhawks' starting catcher 16 games ago. The 5-foot-11 freshman from Paola has caught all but a couple of innings since her promotion, and Craner has yet to be charged with an error or a passed ball.

Thus with Frankenstein, Moppin, Crisosto and Craner on top of their glove games, the Jayhawks' defense up the middle has been flawless during their late-season surge.

Defense, it goes without saying, will have to remain a strength if Kansas (34-24) is to go deeper into the NCAA Tournament than last year, when the Jayhawks lasted only three games at the regional in Athens, Ga.

If the Jayhawks win today, they'll meet the winner of the second game between Washington and Southern Utah at 2:30 p.m. Friday. If Kansas loses, it will meet the loser at 5 p.m. Friday in an elimination game.

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