MIAMI, Fla. – A two-run first inning and a solid relief performance from freshman Kelsey Kessler fell one run short of clinching the Florida International Tournament championship as Kansas dropped its first game of the season to NC State, 3-2, Sunday afternoon.
Kansas (4-1) started and ended its weekend with North Carolina State (4-1), winning the first meeting via run rule on Friday before playing a much tighter game in the final contest of the weekend. Both teams tallied five hits, but a solo homer in the third broke a tie game in the Wolfpack’s favor and stood as the winning run.
“We came out really strong, they answered back and then we just kind of fell flat, which is something we don’t normally do,” head coach Megan Smith said. “So we’ve challenged them to be fighters from inning one to inning seven. We had a great weekend nonetheless. That was a great team and a great pitcher who threw an excellent game.”
Sophomore Alicia Pille made the start, but after shutting the Wolfpack out with a one-hitter in her first game against NC State on Friday, the lineup adjusted to her quickly on Sunday. NCSU used two hits to tie the game in the top of the second, 2-2, before Pille was lifted for freshman pitcher Kelsey Kesler (1-1).
Kessler came in with the bases loaded and only one out in the top of the second, but quickly pitched out of the pressure situation when freshman shortstop Chaley Brickey snagged a line drive and fired the ball to first for the double play. A solo home run on a full count in the next inning was all Kessler surrendered, but it would be enough despite finishing her day with one run, three hits and five strikeouts in her 5.2 innings of relief.
At the plate, redshirt junior right fielder Alex Jones went 2-for-3 with a run scored, while freshman catcher Alex Hugo posted a 2-for-3 day as well. In the bottom of the fourth, Hugo’s leadoff double gave the rookie six-straight hits, spanning the last three games. The duo finished the weekend a combined 19-for-31 (.613) with 11 runs scored.
As a team, Kansas hit .373 for the weekend, scoring 30 runs on 53 hits, while the Jayhawk pitchers held teams to a .217 batting average and struck out 33 batters.
The Jayhawks built their lead thanks to the lineup’s one and two hitters, Jones and senior Maggie Hull, who led off the game with back-to-back singles. Stein knocked Jones in and Hugo’s single scored Hull to hand KU the 2-0 lead out of the first inning.
But the lead was brief. In their next at bat, the Wolfpack put two aboard without the benefit of a hit. With one out, right fielder Chelsea Tate tagged a single to center to plate the first run, while second baseman Katie Mansilla came through two batters later with an RBI single of her own to tie the game and prompt the pitching change. Kessler came in and ended the bases-loaded threat.
The next inning, Kessler battled NC State clean-up hitter Hannah Sommer to a full-count, but the designated player went opposite field to clear the wall in right and hand the Wolfpack a 3-2 lead.
Kessler gave up just two more hits for the rest of the game, but her counterpart – NC State starter Emily Weimann (4-0) – kept the Jayhawk offense from scoring. She sat the Jayhawks in order in the six and seventh innings to seal the game in favor of NC State, 3-2.
Kansas will travel to Auburn, Ala., to play in the Tiger Invitational. The Jayhawks will face Indiana State in the first game on Friday, Feb. 15 at 5:30 p.m.