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Sophomore Hailey Cripe takes next step in journey with Jayhawks

Already known as a strong leader, KU shortstop caps 2024 season by tying a Big 12 tourney record

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KU shortstop Hailey Cripe finished the 2024 season with a memorable outing in the Jayhawks' opening-round Big 12 tournament victory in Oklahoma City. [Chance Parker photo]

Their run might have ended last Thursday night with a five-inning, 10-1 loss to 4th-ranked and second-seeded Oklahoma at the Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City, but not before Kansas shortstop Hailey Cripe could make a little history.

Wednesday night, during the 7th-seeded Jayhawks’ 6-5 win over No. 10 Houston, Cripe tied the Big 12 tourney’s single-game record with 5 RBIs.

Cripe, a sophomore from Royal Center, Indiana, went 2-for-3 on the night, with a two-run home run — her team-leading 7th of the season — and a three-run double.

The feat marked the first time since 2018 that a Big 12 player recorded five RBIs in a single game, and it came as the result of a year’s worth of dedication that inspired KU coach Jennifer McFalls to call Cripe a “workhorse” earlier this year.

“She’s one of those kids that I think has the ability to potentially be an All-American here at Kansas,” McFalls said of Cripe in March. “To me, she’s just incredibly talented and she’s got the right mentality.”

That mentality is one that defines what it means to be a Kansas softball player in 2024 — tough, tenacious, gritty and gifted.

KU's Hailey Cripe connects on one of her big hits during the Big 12 tourney last week in Oklahoma City. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Asked at the team’s media day back in March if she could identify one player who she would send to a softball conference or convention as a representative of what a KU softball player looks like, McFalls picked the “up and coming” shortstop.

That wasn’t a knock on any of the other Jayhawks. This year’s team, which was senior-laden and full of talented, tough players, was one of the most complete and exciting rosters that McFalls has fielded during her time at Kansas.

For Cripe to be the poster child for that not only says a lot about the shape of her game but also about the future of the program.

“She’s a tremendous leader, on and off the field for us, with great work ethic,” McFalls said. “Just a super-blue-collar kid that brings a lot of talent and leadership to our group.”

McFalls, a former shortstop herself, understands the ins and outs of the position and the importance of having a solid and steady leader at that spot.

Although they’ve only been together for two years, she said her bond with Cripe is not unlike that of a quarterback and his play-caller in football.

“It’s just such an extension of me out there,” McFalls said. “I always felt like you have to have your greatest leaders in those positions, and she's by far one of the best for us.”

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