Jayhawks Sweep Bears, 2-1

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – Behind dominate pitching performances from four separate hurlers, the Kansas baseball team mustered a late run in the sixth inning to complete the two-game sweep over Northern Colorado, 2-1, Tuesday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.
The Jayhawks’ (2-1) offensive struggles continued after stranding 12 men on base. However, the formation of a bullpen that was lacking in 2015 took the game on its shoulders and pitched four scoreless frames for the win.
“They were all really good today, and yesterday,” head coach Ritch Price said of his relievers. “A year ago we would have found a way to lose a close game when our bullpen came in. The strength of our team is in our bullpen and we are making progress.”
Kansas relief pitchers saw a combined four innings of action and surrendered just one hit and no runs. Freshman righty Zack Leban (1-0) pitched one and 2/3 innings giving up that lone hit while striking out two batters. Senior right-hander Sam Gilbert blew it by UNC in his one and 1/3 innings, while junior closer Stephen Villines picked up his first save of the season, a day after earning his first win.
“Everybody is throwing the ball really well,” Villines said. “It is fun to see. Gilbert is throwing his fastball right by everyone. We are definitely clicking right now.”
The strength of the team may be in its bullpen, but that is not to overshadow the quality start sophomore lefty Blake Weiman threw together.
The southpaw, who struck out both batters he faced at Little Rock (Feb. 20) in his first appearance of the season, pitched five frames and struck out a career-high six batters. The only blemish was the single unearned run he gave up in the first inning after a catcher’s interference call on sophomore backstop Tanner Gragg allowed a runner to reach base and eventually score.
“I felt good, really confident,” Weiman said. “I think it carried over into today’s outing from my performance at Little Rock. It was a good showing and a good win for us.”
Northern Colorado (1-4) sent eight different pitchers to the mound to silence KU’s bats with Joe Love (0-1) picking up the loss. Love surrendered a run in the sixth inning to give Kansas the advantage, 2-1. Outside of that, the rest of the UNC relief pitching held the Jayhawks to just six hits and relied on its defense to help strand 12 baserunners.
Junior Michael Tinsley, who made his first career start in left field, led KU with a perfect 3-for-3 effort at the plate with a double, RBI and a hit-by-pitch. Junior Marcus Wheeler drove in the go-ahead run in the sixth after a pinch-hit RBI groundout.
However, through three games, Kansas can’t quite find its groove at the plate, scoring just nine runs in those contests.
“I addressed it with the team after the game today by telling them to remain professional,” Price said. “Some of our guys have gotten off to slow starts. There are 56 games in a season, more if you make the postseason. If you hit .300 at the end of the year, you hit .300. The problem is people start to panic sometimes and we just have to sit them down and give them a mental break.”
Kansas will get that mental break the next two days as the team prepares for its annual trip to Surprise, Arizona, for the Big 12/Pac-12 Challenge, Feb. 26-29. All four games will be available on the Jayhawk Radio Network via KUAthletics.com/Radio with Saturday’s game on the dial at KJHK 90.7 FM.
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