Pitching and Defense Lifts Kansas Over No. 16 Missouri State, 2-1

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – Four different pitchers, two manufactured runs and one huge double play in the ninth inning paced the Kansas baseball team to a 2-1 victory over No. 16 Missouri State Tuesday night at Hoglund Ballpark.
The Jayhawks’ (8-13, 0-2 Big 12) win snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Bears (19-5, 0-0 MVC) that dated back to their last victory April 13, 2010 – almost six years ago. No current player on the KU roster had beaten Missouri State until tonight and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
“They were tired of it,” head coach Ritch Price said. “You get tired of losing to somebody. When I first got here, we won every game (against Missouri State) for about four-straight years and then they have beaten us the last five years in a row (did not play in 2013). It was a big win for us.”
That win didn’t come easy, in fact, if it wasn’t for a huge defensive play by junior closer Stephen Villines (4), the game might have gone into extra innings, or worse, KU might have fallen behind.
Villines entered the game to start the eighth inning with a 2-0 and tossed a scoreless frame after giving up a one-out walk. The sidearm hurler went back out in the ninth and that’s when things got a little dicey. Villines walked the first batter of the inning before giving up a one-out double to put runners at second and third.
Then Missouri State centerfielder Hunter Steinmetz singled through the hole at short and left runners at the corners with one out in a one-run ballgame, 2-1.
“Villines hasn’t pitched since Stanford (March 20),” Price said. “He needed to be in a crucial situation – I wish it didn’t get as scary as it did, but that is his job. When you get in trouble, it is the next pitch. You have to make the next pitch when you are in trouble and he did that tonight.”
The very next pitch, Villines forced the Bears’ designated hitter Alex Jefferson to drive one up the middle right back to the mound. Villines used a quick glove and immediately rifled the ball to second base where sophomore shortstop Matt McLaughlin made a nice assist to turn the double play and end the game.
“It was a good spot to come in the game,” Villines said. “The defense picked me up big time – I appreciate that all around. (Jefferson) smoked it right back at me. I caught it – McLaughlin did a great job getting the feed and turning the double play. We needed that. It was a big-time play.”
That big-time play may have ended the game, but it was Kansas’ manufacturing of two runs – mainly by freshman left fielder Devin Foyle – that ultimately won the ballgame. Foyle, batting in the two-hole for the first time all season, had KU’s lone extra-base hit of the game, scored one of the two runs and drove the other one in on a sacrifice fly.
Foyle led off the fourth inning with a double to left center and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by McLaughlin. Designated hitter Michael Tinsley swung at the very next pitch and drove it deep to center field allowing Foyle to score easily from third.
Then in the sixth inning, Foyle found himself in the reverse role. Senior right fielder Joe Moroney led the inning off with a hit-by-pitch and moved to second on a fielder’s choice by freshman third baseman Rudy Karre. Moroney then timed up the motion from Missouri State starter Ryan Dunne (0-1) and swiped third for his team-leading fifth stolen base of the season. Foyle worked the count full and smoked one to right field and KU scored its second run without recording a hit in the inning.
“We manufactured two runs tonight,” Price said. “We found a way to get guys to third base and then got the sacrifice flies to get them in. That has been something we have struggled on earlier this year. It was a tough night to hit and we did what needed to be done to win the game.”
Mix that with solid pitching from sophomore lefty Blake Weiman, freshman righty Jackson Goddard (2-1), senior reliever Sam Gilbert and Villines – KU wins it 2-1.
“This was huge for everyone involved,” Villines said. “This was the first time for anyone in our dugout to get a win over Missouri State so it was an emotional one. We have been putting in the work and it finally paid off. This was just the confidence we need heading back into Big 12 play.”
The Jayhawks will take that confidence with them as they head down to Waco, Texas, April 1-3, to continue conference play at Baylor. All three games of the series can be seen on Fox Sports+ with an audio broadcast also available on the Jayhawk Radio Network via KUAthletics.com/Radio.
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