Kansas Stuns Washington in Come-Back Fashion, 11-8
MESA, Ariz. – Down three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning with runners at first and second and no outs, head coach Ritch Price wasted no time to make an unconventional decision, calling upon junior designated hitter Tommy Mirabelli to lay down the sacrifice bunt.
“They brought in the left hander, and I wanted to try and stay out of the double play,” Price said. “I thought if we could move the runners to second and third, we had a good chance to cut the lead to one and have a chance to tie it in the ninth.”
What the skipper didn’t realize is that his call to lay down a bunt down three runs late in the game would spark a six-run eruption and result in the first win of the 2015 campaign for the Jayhawks (1-3), who tied with having one of the worst starts to a season since 1989 (0-3) heading into the weekend.
However, Kansas pulled together in the eighth inning, pounding out six runs off of five hits, with right fielder Dakota Smith driving in the go-ahead run with two outs thanks to his two-RBI double.
“I got buried in the count, and I was just trying to fight something off,” Smith said. “He left one down the middle of the plate and I put a good swing on it.”
Good swing indeed as the senior drove one deep to the right-center gap, driving in two runs to take the 9-8 lead, before KU picked up two more insurance runs to close the door on the Huskies (4-1).
“I don’t know how many two-strike, two-out hits there were in the eighth inning, but what a great rally for us,” Price said. “It felt good to finally get that first win, especially against a quality opponent that finished second in the Pac-12 a year ago.”
Kansas combined for 18 hits, the most since March 26, 2014, when the Jayhawks set the TD Ameritrade Park record for most hits (16) in a game by a single team. Seven KU players posted multi-hit performances, while three collected more than one RBI.
Senior first baseman Blair Beck led Kansas with a 2-for-3 effort at the plate with a triple, home run, three runs scored, two RBIs and a walk. Smith posted a 2-for-5 performance with two doubles, three RBIs and a run scored.
“My swing feels good right now,” Beck said. “I made a small adjustment today in batting practice, but overall, everything feels good.”
Freshman third baseman Matt McLaughlin and senior shortstop Justin Protacio were the only other two Jayhawks with three-hit days, as McLaughlin finished 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored while Protacio scored once and drove in two runs.
After allowing seven runs through the first four innings, Kansas rallied on the bump to throw five quality innings of relief, giving up just one run. Sophomore righty Stephen Villines (1-0) picked up the win, throwing one and one-third innings of relief, striking out all four batters he faced.
“Our offense did a great job of keeping us in the game,” Villines said. “My main focus was to go out there and pitch strikes and see what happens, and it ended up working out.”
Kansas called upon six pitchers to pull out the win, with junior righty Sam Gilbert, freshmen Casey Douglas and Ryan Jackson, and Villines combining to allow just one run off two hits in the final five innings of the game.
“We allowed only one run in five innings of relief to close out the game,” Price said. “We couldn’t have gotten a better performance out of our bullpen than we did today.”
Washington starter Troy Rallings allowed five runs off 10 hits, but it was closer Brandon Choate (0-1) who picked up the loss giving up three runs in the eighth. The Huskies catcher, Austin Rei, paced the UW offense with a three-run bomb in the fourth inning.
The Big 12/Pac-12 Challenge continues for the Jayhawks Friday, Feb. 20, as Kansas heads back to the yard to take on Utah at Sloan Park. Drew Morovick (0-1, 6.00 ERA) is slated to start on the bump for KU with a 5:30 p.m. (CT) first pitch.
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