Messinger paces Kansas to sweep of No. 20 St. John's
LAWRENCE, Kan. – With the score tied, 3-3, in the bottom of the seventh inning, freshman third baseman Skyler Messinger launched a 3-2 pitch over the left field wall for his first-career bomb, as the Kansas baseball team swept No. 20 St. John’s, 6-5, Sunday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.
Messinger’s home run came in the home half of the seventh inning after the Red Storm (8-4) had just tied it up. Then with two outs and runners at first and second, the rookie battled to a 3-2 count off of St. John’s ace reliever in Jeff Belge (0-2).
The southpaw hurler Belge sat at 92-94 MPH in his two and 1/3 innings of relief, and prior to the two, two-out walks he surrendered in the seventh, he had retired six-straight batters, four via the strikeout. Messinger knew he had a tall task ahead of him.
“I was just trying to stay calm and relaxed up there,” Messinger said. “They have a lot of good arms, and I was just trying to see something I could hit.”
Messinger found that hit in a 3-2 pitch fastball that Belge left over the outer half of the plate and pulled it over the left field wall for the three-run home run – a day after recording his first-career RBI. That blast put the Jayhawks (11-4) up by three runs and would be all they would need to hang on for the series sweep.
“It was great to see a young man who is invested and works hard every day clutch up and help his team win,” head coach Ritch Price said. “He railed that 3-2 fastball into left field, and obviously, that is his biggest hit of his college career so far.”
That may have been the biggest hit of the game, but it was all KU from the start, backed by a strong starting performance from pitcher Ryan Zeferjahn. The righty worked six innings and allowed just two runs off six hits and two walks, while striking out five batters.
Zeferjahn battled through six innings before turning the ball over to redshirt-sophomore Ryan Cyr (2-1) for the seventh, and junior closer Zack Leban for the eighth and ninth.
Sophomore catcher Jaxx Groshans started the early rally for KU in the first inning after he drilled a two-out pitch up the middle to get on base, extending his hit streak to 12 games. Then redshirt-sophomore Brendt Citta forced a fielding error and junior left fielder Devin Foyle singled to center field to drive in Groshans to give Kansas the lead, 1-0.
The Jayhawks tacked on one run in each the fourth and fifth innings, respectively, before Messinger chalked up a three-spot in the seventh with his home run.
“I can’t tell you how pleased I am with our offense,” Price said. “You look at the arms we have seen this season – the last five games should set it up for the power arms we are going to see in conference play.”
St. John’s stormed back for two runs in the ninth, but Leban was able to force a groundout with two outs and the tying run at third to pick up his Big 12-leading seventh save.
Kansas is back on the field Wednesday March 14, for a midweek matchup against Omaha. First pitch Is slated for 3 p.m. Fans unable to attend can watch the game on ESPN3, available at WatchESPN.com or streaming live on multiple devices via the ESPN app. In addition to a video broadcast, the contest can also be heard on the Jayhawk Radio Network via KUAthletics.com/Radio.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Bring out the brooms: For the first time since 2014 (then-No. 19 Texas Tech), the Jayhawks swept a ranked opponent when they defeated No. 20 St. John’s Sunday afternoon. That sweep also marked the second-consecutive weekend series sweep for KU this season, another first since that 2014 campaign where it closed conference play sweeping three-consecutive weekends.
Ten-plus streaks: Sophomore catcher Jaxx Groshans and redshirt-sophomore right fielder Brendt Citta extended their hitting streaks to 12 and 11 games, respectively. They are the first tandem to hold 10-plus-game hitting streaks at the same time since Colby Wright (14) and Michael Tinsley (10) accomplished that feat on May 6, 2016.
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