Jayhawks down Longhorns in Sunday rubber match
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Clutch hitting and outstanding pitching from its bullpen paved the way for a Kansas baseball series victory over Texas, 5-4, Sunday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.
The Jayhawks (12-15, 3-3 Big 12) and Longhorns (19-12, 4-5 Big 12) traded punches through the middle innings until a huge two-out double off the wall in center field by sophomore Devin Foyle sent a surge of reassurance throughout the dugout.
Foyle entered that eighth-inning at bat hitting just .111 (4-for-36) in his last 11 games, but no one could tell by the charge he sent through the baseball off Texas starter Blair Henley (2-3). The ball scorched off the wall about the same time sophomore Rudy Karre was rounding third and Foyle trotted into second base with a stand-up double and the go-ahead RBI.
“I wanted to be in that moment today,” Foyle said. “I have been struggling a little bit at the plate, but I have been hitting the ball hard. I felt really confident – we really needed that win as a team – and I got a good pitch and hit it.”
That swing may have been the biggest to date for Foyle in his young career but it also tipped the scales in favor of the Jayhawks that allowed head coach Ritch Price to make one final call to the bullpen and bring in his ace closer Stephen Villines for the ninth inning.
Villines has been summoned out of the bullpen 96 times heading into today’s game, but it would be this 97th time everyone will remember for different reasons. Villines tossed a perfect one-two-three inning for his sixth save of the season and surpassed legendary closer Don Czyz to take over the top spot on the KU all-time saves chart with 32.
“To be up there with such great closers like Paul Smyth and Don Czyz, it is a great honor,” Villines said. “To help get the series win over a good ball club like Texas – that’s the best part about it.”
People may remember it as Villines’ 32nd career save, or they might recall it as being just the sixth time in school history the Jayhawks have won a series against the Longhorns – the first since 2014, but perhaps most notably, it was the first time in Kansas history that the Jayhawks defeated Texas in football, men’s basketball and baseball in the same season.
“It feels really good,” Price said. “We needed that series win to get back to .500 in conference play. To see our young freshmen produce clutch two-out RBIs like that – it is a huge step forward for that class.”
Those clutch hits were key after Texas jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the third when Kansas starter Jackson Goddard gave up three walks and a hit-by-pitch in the frame. The Longhorns tagged Goddard for another run in the fourth and KU came to the plate in the home half down, 3-0.
Karre and freshman second baseman James Cosentino led off the fourth with back-to-back singles. Junior shortstop Matt McLaughlin wore a pitch to load the bases for Foyle, who grounded out to first to drive in KU’s first run of the contest. Freshman catcher Jaxx Groshans followed with another RBI-groundout and that left McLaughlin at third with two outs. Freshman designated hitter Kaimana Souza-Paaluhi drove a single to right field to score McLaughlin and tie the game up, 3-3.
Then in the fifth inning, it was Cosentino who tied the game up, 4-4, with a two-out RBI driving in freshman right fielder Brett Vosik, who led off the frame with a single. That run forced Price to be aggressive with his bullpen and he got exactly what he needed from his four relievers, including Villines.
“I can’t be prouder of how our bullpen pitched,” Price said. “All three of those guys did exactly what we needed in order to get the ball to Villines, and it was a total team effort out there. What a great win for the Jayhawks.”
Junior lefties Jeider Rincon and Blake Weiman, and sophomore righty Zack Leban tossed the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, respectively, and allowed just two baserunners – a Rincon hit-by-pitch and a Weiman base knock. Piggy-backing those three allowed Price to hand the ball to Villines with the lead in the ninth and he sealed the victory, 5-4.
Kansas starts a four-game road swing when it travels to Missouri State, Tuesday, April 4, before resuming conference play at West Virginia April 7-9. First pitch against the Bears is slated for 6:30 p.m.
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