Jayhawks Drop Series Finale to No. 2 LSU, 7-4

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BATON ROUGE, La. – When scheduling opening weekend against No. 2 LSU, head coach Ritch Price knew his young team would be tested, especially with eight freshmen and 11 total newcomers gracing the roster.
That sentiment held true Sunday afternoon at Alex Box Stadium in front of a crowd of 10,703, as the Jayhawks (0-3) were outscored 4-1 in the final four frames to drop the series finale, 7-4.
Price had one goal in mind heading into the weekend, and that was to get better each day. After dropping the first two games of the series, Kansas gave sophomore right-hander Sean Rackoski the ball to make his first career start on the bump and give the Jayhawks a shot at avoiding the sweep.
“There were definitely a lot of nerves that went into it,” Rackoski said. “I just focused on doing my job and hitting spots. Seeing and hearing all of the people in the crowd and how they reacted to the game was a great experience.”
It was that type of experience that Price hoped would help his team improve throughout the weekend.
“The reason I put it on the schedule was so they had the opportunity to play in a great environment, but also for the growth that would take place for our club over the three days,” Price said. “I definitely think we got better (this weekend) and now if we are mature enough to handle being 0-3, we will be better next weekend.
Rackoski kept KU in the hunt to break up the sweep through the first four innings, pitching out of a no out bases loaded jam in the fourth. However, the Tigers (3-0) shook him up in the fifth for three runs, ending his day after four and one-third innings pitched.
The Jayhawks relied on junior transfer Sam Gilbert, and freshmen Casey Douglas and Ryan Jackson on the bump to get them through the next two and one-third innings. Combined, the trio allowed four runs off five hits, with Gilbert (0-1) hung with the loss.
“We came here for a reason,” Price said. “With so many freshmen and young pitchers, we needed this experience to grow. LSU has unbelievable team speed and made us play and pitch for every out. If we continue to work and grind, we will be a really good baseball team here shortly.”
After allowing a quick run in the first inning, Kansas rallied back in the second, with help from an LSU error, to take its first lead of the weekend.
Sophomore catcher Michael Tinsley led off the inning with a walk, before scoring on an errant throw after a chopper on the infield by senior right fielder Dakota Smith. Then with two outs, Smith scored on a wild pitch to put the Jayhawks up, 2-1.
KU scored another run in the fourth, thanks to a four-bagger by senior first baseman Blair Beck. The captain squared up a 2-0 fastball and mashed it over the wall in left field for his first career home run and increase KU’s lead, 3-1.
“I came into the dugout and got ready and (assistant coach) Ritchie Price told me, ‘have a good at bat right here,’ and that was all I was really thinking about,” Beck said. “They command the zone really well and don’t give you much to hit, but I got a pitch I could handle and got lucky.”
Hits were at a premium for the Jayhawks, who tallied just three on the day, but give credit to the defensive stand by LSU, as they made diving catch after diving catch today in the outfield, and scooped up everything on the infield.
“You look at the board and we only had three hits, but they made six plus-defensive plays,” Price said. “The right fielder makes two diving catches, the centerfielder made a diving catch, and with the bases loaded, he takes the ball away off the wall in right-center field to take a run off the board, and the shortstop made three phenomenal plays. I thought we swung the bats well.”
LSU tied the game up in the fifth inning, before a young KU pitching staff gave up a four-spot in the sixth to fall behind, 7-4.
Although the Jayhawks didn’t find a way to win one of the three games of the series, all would agree the team got better and will be better prepared for a trip to Arizona next week.
“I think we got better this weekend,” Beck said. “It allowed our young pitching staff to grow. We hit the ball well and grew as a team, and I think we are better now heading into Arizona next week.”
The Jayhawks return to the field Thursday, Feb. 19, as they fly west to Arizona for the Big 12 / Pac-12 Challenge where they will face Washington, Utah, Washington State and Oregon State. First pitch against the Huskies on Thursday is slated for 2 p.m. (CT).
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