‘A lot to play for’: Iowa State faces Kansas for Big 12 seeding


Tyler Coe

Milaysia Ochoa celebrates a home run against Drake on May 3, 2023.

Anthony Hanson, Sports Reporter

Iowa State has become the team it knew it was all season.

Iowa State head coach Jamie Pinkerton’s team won nine of its last 12 games while navigating a tough Big 12 schedule and battling back from 10 games below .500 in April. The Cyclones have beaten top-ranked teams and in-state rivals during a timely late-season push.

“We’re starting to hit the ball, which we’ve been capable of all year,” Pinkerton said. “This is the team — and the players know this — that if we would have February and March back playing like this, it would be a different story.”

The Cyclones’ resurgence comes at an opportune time. Iowa State begins a three-game series with Kansas on Friday on the road. The series will be the final for both teams in the conference schedule and will be vital for conference seeding.

Iowa State and Kansas both enter the series 4-11 in Big 12 conference games, tied for seventh in the Big 12. Each team is within striking distance of fourth-place Baylor and fifth-place Texas Tech. 

A series win will launch either team out of seventh place. As Baylor faces Texas for three games over the weekend, the winner between the Cyclones and Jayhawks could move as high as fourth in the final standings.

Last season, Iowa State finished fourth in the Big 12 conference standings and won its first-round game against Baylor. It was the first time in modern Big 12 history Iowa State finished in fourth place.

“A lot is on the line for us,” Pinkerton said. “Last year was the first year we ever finished fourth. That’s a good goal. It’s a good building block. There’s still a lot to play for.”

Kansas most recently picked up an upset win against No. 18 Wichita State. Jayhawk freshman Lizzy Ludwig threw a complete game as her team finished ahead 3-1. Kansas has ranked wins against Baylor and Texas this season.

Pinkerton said Kansas is “much improved.”

Most recently for Iowa State, the Cyclones cruised past in-state rival Drake. Drake held two wins over Iowa State earlier this season, but Iowa State responded with a 12-4 mercy-rule victory in which Pinkerton was ejected in the first inning.

Iowa State clicked up and down the lineup and in all three phases in Wednesday’s win. Power, short game and defense all came together in the decisive win.

Iowa State hitters tallied six extra-base hits, including three home runs. Center fielder Milaysia Ochoa got her 12th home run of the season. Senior Angelita Fuentes launched the walk-off home run in the sixth that pushed Iowa State past the mercy rule.

Ochoa saved Drake’s runs from coming across the plate with her diving catch in the fourth inning from her position in center field. Kasey Simpson added an RBI bunt in the bottom of the fourth inning.

The all-around play is what Iowa State is looking to carry into the series with the talented Kansas team, Iowa State associate head coach Courtney Martinez said Wednesday.

“I think they’re really talented,” Martinez said. “They hit the ball pretty well, so we’ll need to make some plays on defense, but we expect to do the same as well.”

Kansas enters the matchup with a .233 team batting average on the season.

First pitch will take place at 5 p.m. Friday in Lawrence, Kansas. Game two will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, and the series finale will start at noon Sunday.