LAWRENCE, Kan. (KUAthletics.com) – The best postseason resume the Kansas softball team has put together in the Megan Smith era led to the Jayhawks' first NCAA Regional bid since 2006. The NCAA selection committee announced that Kansas will travel to the Columbia Regional and face Nebraska on Friday, May 16 at 12:30 p.m. at University Field in Columbia, Missouri.
"I am so excited for our team," said Smith of the Jayhawks earning an at-large bid. "They are a special group and have worked hard. They have fought all season long for this. This is not just for our current players though. For the last five years, every player and staff member has worked extremely hard for this moment. We are happy to share this excitement with them."
Kansas will get another chance at the No. 18 Cornhuskers, who edged the Jayhawks, 1-0, earlier this season at Arrocha Ballpark. Friday's game marks the 11th NCAA Tournament appearance in program history and is the first NCAA appearance under Smith, who is in her fifth season as KU's head coach.
Last NCAA Regional Appearance: 2006
Number of NCAA Regional Appearances: 11 (1983, 1985, 1986, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2005, 2006, 2014)
The Columbia regional will also feature host Missouri, Bradley, the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Champions, Nebraska, the Big Ten Regular Season Champions, and Kansas. The Tigers will open the 2014 postseason against Bradley on Friday, May 16 at 3 p.m.
NCAA Tournament History
The Jayhawks have made 11 appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including a trip to the Women's College World Series in 1992. KU's first NCAA appearance was in 1983. From 1992-94, the Jayhawks made three-straight appearances in the field of 64 for the longest postseason streak in Kansas history. The Jayhawks hosted a regional in the 1992 and 1994 NCAA Tournament. Overall, Kansas is 14-20 in the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas (33-21, 7-11 Big 12) wrapped up the regular season by winning four of its last five games, including a series sweep over Big 12 foe Iowa State. KU concluded the 2014 Big 12 season in fifth place and with an RPI of 40, its lowest under Smith. During the final Big 12 series of 2014, the Jayhawks outscored the Cyclones, 22-8, and KU's defense extended its streak without an error to nine games.
Kansas' defense set a program record after ending the regular season with a .979 fielding percentage, which is only 29 errors in 54 games. The previous record was .976 and was set during the 2013 season. Last season, the Jayhawks finished the year with the eighth-best fielding percentage and currently have the third-best fielding percentage prior to the postseason.
Seniors Ashley Newman and Taylor Hatfield led Kansas' offense against Iowa State hitting .500 and .625, respectively. Collectively, the Jayhawks batted .346 in the last games to end the season with four doubles, a triple and four home runs.
Sophomore Chaley Brickey leads the team hitting .375 with 38 RBIs and a team-best 11 home runs. Earlier this season, she set a single-season record for walks surpassing the previous record of 36 on April 26 at Baylor. Four Jayhawks are hitting .300 or better and have posted 110 extra base hits, including 31 home runs from eight different players.
In the circle, Kansas' pitching staff has a 2.59 ERA with 397 strikeouts and 15 shutouts. Sophomore Kelsey Kessler leads the pitching staff with a 2.41 ERA and 244 strikeouts. She also has hurled seven shutouts. Junior Alicia Pille has posted a 2.45 ERA with six shutouts and 125 strikeouts.
No. 18 Nebraska won a share of the Big Ten regular season championship after registering an 18-5 mark during league play and had six All-Big Ten selections at the conclusion of the conference season. Overall, the Huskers are 40-15 and ended Big Ten play sweeping Indiana in a three-game series. Nebraska fell to Ohio State, 7-5, in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Offensively, the Huskers are led by Taylor Edwards, who is hitting .362 with seven doubles, 17 home runs and 41 RBIs. Hailey Decker is batting .360 with a team-best 43 RBIs. Nebraska is hitting .301 as a team with 61 home runs. Four Husker starters are hitting .300 or above on the season.
In the circle, Nebraska is led by Tatum Edwards, who has posted 195 strikeouts with 1.96 ERA. She has a 22-11 mark and tossed eight shutouts in 3 starts. The Huskers' pitching staff has a 2.03 ERA and struck out 298 batters. Collectively, Nebraska's pitching staff has recorded 17 shutouts.