STILLWATER, Okla. – Down to the final three outs, Kansas was poised for a comeback as the Jayhawks loaded the bases in the top of the seventh, but the Cowgirls held on for the 3-1 win Friday night at Cowgirl Stadium.
Kansas (26-12, 3-4) chalked up more hits and no errors, but Oklahoma State (25-20, 3-7), held off the rallying Jayhawks long enough to take the series opener. Although KU posted six hits to OSU’s four, none of them were the clutch hit needed to power KU’s comeback effort.
“She (Kat Espinosa) is a strong pitcher and threw extremely well today,” head coach Megan Smith said. “I thought we did a good job of getting runners on, it was just getting those clutch hits when we needed them. We just didn’t do that as much as we needed to.”
Freshman Kelsey Kessler (7-4) made her first start since no-hitting Texas Tech on April 7. Since then, however, the rookie missed a scheduled start at Furman due to injury. Upon her return on Friday, Kessler surrendered a two-run homer to the third batter she faced. A leadoff homer in the bottom of the second ended Kessler’s return outing.
Sophomore Alicia Pille took over from there, shutting the door on the Cowgirls. She gave up just one hit in her five innings of relief, while striking out four. She ended the game retiring 13-straight, not allowing a runner on base after the second inning. Despite her stifling relief effort, the Cowgirls had the runs they needed.
“She was very strong tonight,” Smith said of Pille. “She just didn’t have the offense behind her to pull out a win, but she was strong. I was really proud of her performance.”
Freshman catcher Alex Hugo and sophomore designated player Maddie Stein led the Jayhawk offense as each went 2-for-3. Stein recorded her 37th RBI of the year and freshman shortstop Chaley Brickey scored KU’s lone run.
Opposite Pille and the KU offense was Oklahoma State’s senior starter Kat Espinosa (14-13). The right-hander threw a complete game and stranded 10 total Jayhawks throughout the evening, scattering six hits over seven innings, walking two and collecting four strikeouts.
To start the game, redshirt junior centerfielder Alex Jones led off the first with an infield single and senior left fielder Maggie Hull took a pitch off the helmet to put two runners on with none out, but Espinosa worked around the jam to leave the duo stranded on second and third.
The Oklahoma State offense paid its starting pitcher back when first baseman Tarah Ettinger hit a two-run shot to take a 2-0 lead out of the first inning. When left fielder Amy Graham connected on a leadoff homer in the second, Espinosa and the Cowgirls had a 3-0 cushion to work with.
Although Espinosa kept the KU bats quiet through the first three innings, the Jayhawks started chipping away in the top of the fourth, thanks to Stein’s RBI single, cutting the deficit to 3-1.
With the help of Hull and Jones tracking down fly balls pelted to left and center in the fifth, Pille accounted for all three outs in the sixth. The sophomore righty racked up two strikeouts and snagged a line drive, but OSU’s starter was dealing, as well. Espinosa stranded Jayhawks in the fourth, fifth and sixth to keep the 3-1 advantage intact.
The top of the seventh had all the makings of a comeback. Junior second baseman Ashley Newman drew a leadoff walk and a catcher’s interference call put Maggie Hull on base. Hugo followed that with a single to center, loading the bases with only one out.
Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, the rally stopped there as a pop up in foul territory and a strikeout ended the game in favor of the Cowgirls, 3-1.
Kansas and Oklahoma State will square off in the second game of the series Saturday at noon.