Originally published May 16, 2014 at 02:47p.m., updated May 16, 2014 at 06:22p.m.
Columbia, Mo. — The Border War is back on.
At least for one day.
Kansas University’s upset-minded softball team wasted no time Friday afternoon against No. 19 Nebraska, scoring three runs in the top of the first to establish the upper hand on the way to a 3-1 victory in the Jayhawks’ first NCAA Tournament game since 2006.
Now the Jayhawks (34-21) will take on old Border War foe Missouri — a 6-5, eight-inning victor over Bradley on Friday — in the second round of the Columbia regional at 3:30 p.m. today.
Last weekend, Missouri junior Corrin Genovese went off about the defunct rivalry between KU and Mizzou in an interview with Gabe DeArmond of PowerMizzou.com.
“We wanted to keep the tradition going,” she said Sunday night after learning Kansas would travel across the state line for the NCAA Tournament regional at Missouri this weekend. “They backed out, they felt disrespected. But for us to be the first team to play them after that went down, I think it’s a big statement game. KU’s done everything they can to avoid us the last couple years playing so they might lose the first round, you never know.”
The showdown against Mizzou marks the first time the Jayhawks and Tigers have gone head-to-head since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC in 2012. The game will be streamed for free on YouTube.
“I hope we get the opportunity to play them. I really do,” KU junior pitcher Alicia Pille said earlier this week. “We’re gonna bring it. Hopefully everything goes our way.”
The winner of the postseason Border War moves on to Sunday with a 2-0 record in the double-elimination regional and would then need just one more win to advance to next week’s super regionals.
Fifth-year KU coach Megan Smith, who has the Jayhawks in the postseason for the first time since she arrived, acknowledged earlier this week she anticipated an anti-Kansas crowd this weekend.
“I think any time you go to a regional site, whoever’s hosting has really good fans and really good support,” Smith said. “You always feel like the underdog when you go into those places. (Columbia) won’t be any different than any other place.”
Despite the excitement surrounding the rivalry, the Jayhawks’ Ashley Newman said earlier this week KU had to ignore Genovese’s trash talk.
“We knew that we couldn’t focus too much on that,” she said, “because we still had another team ahead of them.”
Friday, the Jayhawks wasted little time in avenging a loss earlier this season to the Huskers.
With two outs in the opening half inning, KU junior Maddie Stein drove in senior Newman with a single off of Huskers pitcher Tatum Edwards before senior Taylor Hatfield smacked a two-run homer.
Sophomore Kansas pitcher Kelsey Kessler threw all seven innings, allowed five hits and struck out six for the win against Nebraska (40-16).
“She was phenomenal today,” Smith said of Kessler. “She showed a lot of grit, which is good to see from your pitcher. She gave up some base-runners that she was not happy about. She clawed out of it and showed a lot of fight. It was a great outing for her.”
Nebraska outhit Kansas 5-4, but the Jayhawks made the most of their hits.
“I let a lot of runners on that I probably shouldn’t have,” Kessler said. “The defense was solid behind me. When runners are on, it makes me focus more on getting the out.”
Later Friday, Missouri blew a 4-0 lead when it allowed Bradley to score five runs in the top of the seventh. But the Tigers (42-16) tied it in the bottom, then plated a single run in the eighth to set up the Border War showdown.
The loser of today’s game will play again at 8:30 p.m. today against either Bradley or Nebraska. Today’s winner will play at noon Sunday for a chance to advance to super regionals.
Kansas 300 000 0 — 3 4 0
Nebraska 000 100 0 — 1 5 0
W — Kelsey Kessler, 20-14. L — Tatum Edwards, 22-12.
2B — Maddie Stein, Kansas; Hailey Decker, Nebraska. HR — Taylor Hatfield, Kansas.
Kansas highlights — Kessler 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 Ks; Stein 2-for-3, R, RBI; Hatfield 1-for-3, R, 2 RBIs; Ashley Newman 1-for-3, R.