Kansas bats come alive in win over Northwestern State

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LAWRENCE, Kan. –  Kansas baseball tallied a season-high-tying 15 hits, while 11-of-12 Jayhawks with an at-bat reached safely after making contact, in the Jayhawks’ 8-2 win over Northwestern State Friday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.

The offensive exposition was much needed for Kansas (3-6) to not only inch head coach Ritch Price a game away from becoming KU’s all-time winningest coach against the Demons (3-5), but to pull the Jayhawks out of an offensive funk they have been facing throughout the first nine games. Matt McLaughlin, Kaimana Souza-Paaluhi, Rudy Karre and John Remick each recorded two or more hits on the brisk afternoon.

The baserunners were a positive for Price, but the Jayhawks turning in quality at-bats and preventing Northwestern State from escaping innings unscathed pleased him most. Leading the offensive output were Souza-Paaluhi and Jaxx Groshans who each knocked in two runs apiece to seal the first of a three-game series against the Demons.

“Our focus this week was doing a better job with the pitches that are away,” Price said. “We wanted to get our young guys to understand teams are going to pitch away from them. We grinded and worked really hard this week and it paid off. Now we have to do it more than one day.”

Kansas struck first in the home half of the second after base knocks by David Kyriacou and Karre put runners on. A textbook sacrifice-bunt by James Cosentino moved Kyriacou and Karre into scoring position before Groshans popped a ball down the right field line setting the table for a 2-0 KU lead.

Starting pitcher Sean Rackoski (2-1) was nearly flawless on the hill after tossing five innings of one-hit baseball, while striking out five Demons. Rackoski was shaky at times with three walks, but recorded outs when necessary to hold Northwestern State at bay. 

“I’m proud of the way Rackoski battled today,” Price said. “He pitched himself in and out of trouble and found a way to get big outs when he needed them. It was a big step forward for him.”

Kansas put three runners on base in consecutive innings before the Jayhawk bats came through to plate an additional two runs, 4-0, in the fourth. The Demons shifted on Souza-Paaluhi, playing their short stop up the middle, when the freshman came through hitting a ground ball into the vacancy, scoring Owen Taylor and Remick.

The fifth run of the game came across when Devin Foyle popped out to center field long enough for McLaughlin to tag at third for KU’s third run of the fourth inning. Cosentino made up for a third-inning groundout with the bases loaded by slapping a ground rule double to left field scoring Karre in the fifth, 6-0, in favor of the Jayhawks.

The home bats lit up again in the middle innings as Remick tripled down the right field line bringing home Cosentino for a 7-0 advantage. KU’s eighth run of the afternoon crossed the plate in the fifth as well when Taylor grounded a ball to short and Remick beat the throw to the plate.  

Northwestern State refused the shutout and resiliently got on the board in the top of the eighth on a sacrifice fly to the center field wall, as well as a groundout to shortstop, but the game was well in hand for Kansas.

The Demons weren’t able to rally in the top of the ninth as Zack Leban shut down any hopes of a comeback while gift-wrapping an 8-2 victory that tied Price with Floyd Temple as KU’s all-time winningest baseball coach. 

“I have the utmost respect for Floyd Temple and what he accomplished at the University of Kansas,” Price said. “You don’t accomplish something like this without being around outstanding people. To coach 28 years without the facilities we have today in a cold-weather state – I have unbelievable respect for the job he did here.”

Kansas continues its eight-game homestand when the Jayhawks play Northwestern State for the second of a three-game series at Hoglund Ballpark March 3-5.
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