Jayhawks club past West Virginia in series finale
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Backed by two strong pitching performances and 15 hits, the Kansas baseball team blasted its way to a 7-2 victory at West Virginia Sunday afternoon at Monongalia County Ballpark.
The Jayhawks (14-17, 4-5 Big 12) tied a season-high 15 hits against four Mountaineer (19-11, 6-3 Big 12) pitchers, but none was bigger than the leadoff home run by junior catcher Tanner Gragg in the top of the seventh inning to break a 2-2 tie.
“Gragg played really well today,” head coach Ritch Price said. “He grinds and works hard every day and he has become an absolutely outstanding defensive player with a plus-arm. To see him be physical with the bat like that, I couldn’t be happier for him. You root for those players who work hard and earn it and it was great to see him make the most of that opportunity today.”
Of the three runs Kansas scored to cancel out the two WVU runs, Gragg drove in two of them. He broke open the scoring in the second inning with a two-out RBI-single up the middle to score sophomore third baseman David Kyriacou from second, and then hit the go-ahead home run in the seventh.
However, it would be the four and 2/3 innings from freshman starter Ryan Zeferjahn and three and 1/3 innings from lefty reliever Blake Weiman (1-0) that sealed the deal for the Jayhawks. Zeferjahn struck out eight batters in the 97-pitch effort allowing two runs off a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Weiman came on to record the final out of the fifth inning, and kept it a tie game until Gragg’s home run gave Kansas the lead. Weiman finished giving up two hits while striking out three of the 12 batters he faced.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the job Zeferjahn did for us,” Price said. “We needed a big performance from him today and he got us into the fifth inning. Then our guy Weiman was absolutely special – that was the key to the ballgame. He came in and shut down those left handers with runners on base and put up zeroes until we could manage to score again.”
Clinging to a one-run lead in the top of the ninth, the Jayhawks hit four-straight singles to tack on another run. Then freshman Brett Vosik drives a two-out RBI-single up the middle and forces an errant throw. Kansas scored two more runs off the play and with a 7-2 lead, Price called to his closer Stephen Villines for the bottom of the ninth.
Villines came on and retired the side to lock up the victory and salvage the weekend, 7-2.
“To go on the road against two top-20 RPI teams and finish 2-2, that ends up being a really good week for us,” Price said. “We won a huge game today, and in all reality, we can’t be in a better position. I am really proud of our effort today after being dominated last night.”
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Back-to-back RBI singles: After getting shutout the night before, Kansas needed a fast start to control the game. Gragg and junior shortstop Matt McLaughlin answered that call with RBI-singles in the second and third innings, respectively, to give the Jayhawks an early 2-0 lead.
Mountaineer long ball: Zeferjahn got into some trouble in the bottom of the fourth inning when he gave up a one-out single to Cole Austin. WVU’s next batter right fielder Darius Hill took Zeferjahn deep for his second home run of the weekend and tie the game up, 2-2.
Weiman for the save: With two outs and runners at first and second in a tie ballgame, Price called to Weiman to face one of West Virginia’s best hitters in first baseman Jackson Cramer. It only took three pitches and Weiman sat down Cramer looking with his first of three strikeouts on the day.
First-career bomb: Gragg broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the seventh inning when he hit his first-career home run off West Virginia hurler Sam Kessler. The ball exited the yard on a line over the left-field wall and landed into the Kansas bullpen. That run was all the Jayhawks needed to wrap-up the “W”.
Ninth explosion: KU opened the top of the ninth with four-straight singles to tack on an insurance run. Then with one out, Vosik drove an RBI-single up the middle and because of his quickness, forced an errant throw by WVU shortstop Jimmy Galusky – two scored on the play to give Kansas a five-run cushion.
Kansas hosts in-state rival Wichita State on Tuesday, April 11. First pitch is slated for 6 p.m. and can be seen on the Jayhawk Television Network (in the state of Kansas) or on ESPN3 (outside the coverage area). In addition, a live audio broadcast can be heard on the Jayhawk Radio Network via KUAthletics.com/Radio or on the official “Kansas Jayhawks” app.
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