McKay, Tharp Lift Jayhawks to Ninth-Straight Win

Junior right fielder Connor McKay hit his fourth home run of the season with a two-run shot in the fourth.
Kansas 11, Houston Baptist 5
QuikTrip Park // Grand Prairie, Texas
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H
HBU 0 0 0 0 2 0 3 0 0 5 13
KU 0 6 0 2 0 0 1 2 X 11 14

Box Score (.pdf)

Season Stats (.pdf)

Post-game Podcast (audio)

Batting Leaders
D. Smith 5 1 3 0 0 0
T. Tharp 5 2 2 2 0 1
C. McKay 5 1 1 2 0 1
C. Jones 5 2 4 0 0 0
B. Brown 5 2 3 3 0 1
C. Jarvis 3 1 2 0 1 0
Kansas IP H R ER BB SO
W. Benjamin (2-0) 6.0 11 5 5 1 8
T. Rappaport 1.0 1 0 0 0 0
S. Villines 2.0 1 0 0 0 2
T. Wright (2-1) 3.2 10 8 7 1 1
M. Harding 3.1 3 1 1 1 1
I. Smith 0.0 1 2 0 0 0
C. Garza 1.0 0 0 0 1 1

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas – Junior right fielder Connor McKay and senior centerfielder Tucker Tharp combined for two home runs and four RBIs as the Kansas baseball team won its series opener and ninth-straight game of 2014 against Houston Baptist, 11-5, Friday afternoon at QuikTrip Park.
Tharp’s two-run line drive came on the first pitch of the at bat to break open the scoring in the second inning, the first of six runs in the game-changing frame. McKay followed suit in the fourth, dropping a two-out two-RBI bomb over the sports bar in deep left field to give Kansas (9-0) an eight-run advantage over the Huskies (6-3), a lead that would stand for the rest of the day.
“Some of the guys were giving me a hard time saying I hadn’t even sat down before I saw the pitch,” Tharp said. “Obviously I got a fastball up and in and I hadn’t seen the guy throw yet, so I just tried to jump on it and hit it hard somewhere. I got a good piece on it and the wind took it out.”
KU has now scored 10 or more runs in six of its contests this season, marking the most 10-run games in a nine-game span to start the season since 1894, when the Jayhawks achieved the same feat.
Junior left-hander Wes Benjamin (2-0) started the game on the bump for KU, giving up 11 hits and five runs in six innings of work for his second win on the season. He struck out a season-high eight batters in the process. Sophomore righty Taylor Rappaport and freshman sidearm hurler Stephen Villines came on to close out the game. Rappaport went one inning, giving up one hit, while Villines tossed two innings, striking out two.
“You can’t ask more from a freshman,” Tharp said. “You get thrown into the spotlight and need to step up and contribute for the team. He’s thrown strikes and it’s really good to see. He’s a young guy and gets what you have to do coming out of the ‘pen to set up (Jordan) Piche’. You have to battle and keep being a bulldog out there and that is what he has done.”
As a staff, KU pitchers allowed five runs off 13 hits, the third-most hits on the season, while tallying 10 strikeouts. Benjamin battled out of a few tough spots, including a third inning bases loaded jam, where he struck out the last two batters to end the HBU threat.
“I thought he (Benjamin) was better than he was in Florida a week ago,” head coach Ritch Price said. “I’ll give him credit, they have a really good approach at the plate. They stayed on balance and took his fastball away. I’ll tell you what, Villines was outstanding today. He has no fear. He has a great sidearm delivery so he kind of changes the angle from what you are used to seeing with that unusual delivery.”
For the third-straight game and sixth game this season, the Jayhawks’ offense tallied 10 or more hits, reaching the 14 mark in today’s contest. Five different hitters tallied multiple hits, with senior designated hitter Dakota Smith leading the charge with three hits and a run scored. Junior short stop Justin Protacio, junior third basement Aaron Herndadez, Tharp and freshman catcher Michael Tinsley each had two hits on the day.
“I thought we vastly improved in the fall,” Price said. “I thought our approach was better and my assistant coaches have worked real hard on our short game execution and we have been really good at that the first few weeks of the season. Staying in the middle of the diamond, our two-strike approach is so much better than it was a year ago and it goes back to those guys having experience now. They are juniors and seniors and they have taken their game to the next level. I give my assistants credit for developing them and the players credit for executing because that’s the hardest part.”
Houston Baptist starter Taylor Wright (2-1) lasted just three and two-thirds innings against the hot Kansas lineup, allowing 10 hits and eight runs in the loss. Matt Harding came on in relief and tossed three and a third innings, surrendering three hits and a run.
HBU’s offensive production came at the bat of first baseman Bradley Brown, who hit a three-run shot in the seventh inning to pull within four of Kansas, 9-5. However, costly errors towards the end of the game allowed the Jayhawks to pull ahead and seal the deal with an 11-5 victory.
Kansas and the Huskies are back on the diamond Saturday, March 1, for doubleheader action. Game one on the day is schedule to begin at noon, with game two to follow.  The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.