Pitching, defense and timely hitting pace Jayhawks to series win against Murray State
LAWRENCE, Kan. – On a blustery day with gusts of wind blowing upwards of 30 MPH in from right-center field, sophomore Ryan Zeferjahn paced Kansas to a series victory over Murray State, 4-1, Sunday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.
Zeferjahn (1-0) lit up the radar gun in his 78-pitch effort, touching 98 MPH at times. His effectively wild approach kept the Racers (1-2) off balance through his five innings of work. The power righty struck out eight batters, but allowed five free passes (one walk, four hit batsmen). His only blemish in the run column came in the fifth inning when a Kansas (2-1) error led to Murray State’s lone unearned run.
“The whole key to the game was how well Zeferjahn dominated Murray State the first five innings,” head coach Ritch Price said. “We made some great plays behind him and were able to capitalize when we needed to and find a way to win.”
With all the activity on the bases during his outing, Zeferjahn was able to rely on his defense to keep the Racers off the board. The majority of that load fell to sophomore shortstop Benjamin Sems, who flashed leather on six plus-plays to stave off Murray State’s attack.
Each time the ball found its way to Sems, he had the opportunity to showcase his range and arm strength, racking up a career-high six assists.
“If (Sems) plays defense like that every day with the pitching staff we have, we are going to be really good when this things over,” Price said. “He made six plus-plays defensively, and it was special to watch.”
Pitching and defense may have helped the Jayhawks pick up their first series win of the season, but the timely hitting proved to be the deciding factor in the 4-1 win.
All four runs Kansas scored came by way of a two-out base knock. Back-to-back singles in the top of the first by junior left fielder Devin Foyle and senior first baseman Luke Bakula led to a three-spot. Then it was a RBI-single in the bottom of the third by senior catcher Tanner Gragg that gave Kansas a comfortable lead, 4-0.
Zeferjahn allowed two hits and that lone unearned run, and it was left to the bullpen to close out the final four innings with a 4-1 lead.
That call got answered. Redshirt-sophomore Ryan Cyr tossed two scoreless frames with three strikeouts. Junior Blake Goldsberry pitched the eighth and recorded one K, and closer Zack Leban picked up his second save of the season in as many appearances to seal up the win.
Bakula and Gragg led all hitters and combined for half of KU’s hit total, each boasting multi-hit affairs. Bakula drove in a pair of runs and scored once, while Gragg picked up his first RBI of the season.
Kansas continues its 11-game homestand on Tuesday, Feb. 20, when the Jayhawks take on UAPB in the first of a two-game midweek set. First pitch is slated for 1 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
Defense at short: Sophomore shortstop Benjamin Sems had big shoes to fill this season with the departure of Matt McLaughlin in the 2017 MLB Draft. Sems showed his defensive prowess against the Racers Sunday afternoon with six plus-plays defensively in the hole. Seemingly each time the ball was hit his way, Sems showed off his range and arm strength to get the job done.
Two-out RBIs: All four of the Jayhawks’ runs came with two outs. In the first, it was a two-out RBI single by left fielder Devin Foyle, followed by a two-run single by first baseman Luke Bakula. Then in the third, senior catcher Tanner Gragg roped a RBI-single to right field to score Bakula from third.
Doubled-up: In the top of the seventh inning with bases loaded, one out and Murray State primed to score, redshirt-sophomore Ryan Cyr induced a ground ball to third baseman Skyler Messinger for the five, four, three double play to get out of the jam. That was the second time on the day Kansas used a double play to keep the Racers from scoring with runners on base. In the top of the second, the Jayhawks used a one, six, three double play with two on to get out of the frame unscathed. In total, KU turned three double plays on the day.
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