Trojans Stun Jayhawks, 4-2
Notes Final Box (.pdf)
LAWRENCE, Kan. – A fifth-inning home run was too much to overcome, as the Kansas baseball team fell at Little Rock, 4-2, Saturday afternoon at Gary Hogan Field.
The Jayhawks (0-1), in their season opener, couldn’t find their groove at the plate as they mustered just four hits off Little Rock (1-1) starter Will Hazen, who mixed his changeup well to keep the KU hitters off balance.
“The problem was we hunt the fastball,” Price said. “We are trying to be aggressive early in the count and hunt the fastball. The reality of it today was we missed it. Hazen would use the changeup and then go back to the fastball and we were late.”
Sophomore shortstop Matt McLaughlin drove in both of KU’s runs on the day, while senior second baseman Colby Wright, freshman designated hitter Rudy Karre and senior third baseman Tommy Mirabelli each added a knock of their own.
The lackluster offense didn’t help senior lefty Ben Krauth (0-1) who struggled to get in a rhythm on the mound. Krauth battled through five innings, giving up four runs on six hits while striking out four batters. However, it was the fifth-inning bomb by Little Rock left fielder Ryan Scott that devastated the Jayhawks.
“Ben Krauth had a tough day,” Price said. “He was behind in every inning and didn’t have good command of the fastball. He found a way to get through five innings, but that home run destroyed us.”
If there was a silver lining, it was the KU bullpen. A unit that struggled the course of the 2015 season, all three relievers showed signs of strength, especially the final two. Sophomore lefty Blake Weiman and senior righty Sam Gilbert struck out six-straight batters to close out the game, including Gilbert’s four in the eighth inning.
The Trojans jumped out to the early 2-0 lead in the second inning. Krauth walked the leadoff batter before giving up back-to-back base knocks including a double to left center to break open the scoring on the day. Little Rock tacked on the second after a single to right brought in a baserunner from third.
Kansas answered quickly with a two-run frame of its own in the third. Mirabelli blooped one to right field for the Jayhawks first hit of the season to lead off the inning. Wright followed suit with a double down the left field line to put runners at second and third with one out. Hazen settled down and got the second out, but it was the big bat of McLaughlin that knotted the game up, 2-2.
Little Rock found its groove again in the fifth inning after Krauth found himself in a little bit of trouble. Scott took advantage and drove one over the right field wall for the two-run shot and give the Trojans the advantage, 4-2. That was just Krauth’s second home run given up in his collegiate career.
The Trojans threatened again in the sixth after Kansas called to its bullpen to bring in the freshman righty Zack Leban. Little Rock took advantage of a walk and a hit-by-pitch from Leban to put two runners in scoring position with two outs. Leban followed and induced a two-out fly ball to junior Joven Afenir in centerfield to get out of the jam with KU trailing, 4-2.
Little Rock kept pushing after Leban gave off a lead-off single and a walk to start the seventh. The Trojans put down the sacrifice bunt and drew another walk to load the bases and force Price to go to his bullpen once again. It was Weiman who got the call with one out.
“I just wanted to go out there and give my team the best chance at winning,” Weiman said. “Last year I was put in a lot of those situations and I didn’t capitalize on them like I should have. I am a year older, a year stronger, and I have put in a lot of hard work. I’m glad to see it pay off.”
The southpaw dug in and struck out both batters he faced to get KU out of the jam and keep it a two-run game, 4-2.
“I was really happy to see him show some emotion and some competitiveness,” Price said. “That might be the hardest I have seen him throw since he stepped foot on our campus. He got after it. There is no question about it. It was really encouraging, especially after falling behind 3-1 and coming all the way back for the punch out.”
The bullpen held its own each time Kansas made a move. In the eighth, KU called upon Gilbert to keep it a two-run game. The righty did just that and struck out the side – all four batters he faced after a wild pitch put a runner on first on the third strikeout. However, it wasn’t enough to give the Jayhawks momentum in the ninth and they fell at Little Rock, 4-2.
“The focus now is opening up at home with Northern Colorado and bouncing back,” Price said. “We have to get better. When you struggle one day offensively – that is the great thing about this game, you get a chance to redeem yourself.”
Kansas returns home Monday, Feb. 22, as the Jayhawks play host to Northern Colorado for the first of a two-game set. First pitch against the Bears is slated for 3 p.m., and can be seen on ESPN3. Fans can also tune in to a live audio broadcast on the Jayhawk Radio Network via KUAthletics.com/Radio.
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