Jayhawks Bounce Back at Grand Canyon, 9-5
PHOENIX, Ariz. –After a tough loss to the Antelopes a day ago, the Kansas baseball team regrouped and relied on six pitchers and its offense to scrap out a 9-5 win over GCU Wednesday afternoon at Brazell Stadium.
The Jayhawks (5-8) pounded out 12 hits, four extra-base hits, two home runs and scored nine runs off a Grand Canyon (10-4) club that is off to one of the hottest starts in program history.
“It was a huge day for us,” head coach Ritch Price said. “After our performance yesterday, we needed to find a way to win, whether it was a low scoring game or a high scoring game. To quote coach Self, ‘we found a way to win an ugly one.'”
Senior shortstop Justin Protacio led all hitters with three base knocks. Senior first baseman Blair Beck and sophomore catcher Michael Tinsley each blasted a home run with Tinsley finishing the day with two RBIs and two runs scored, while taking two free passes.
The more important storyline on the day, however, was with a struggling pitching staff, Kansas scrapped together a win using six different pitchers, relying on sophomore closer Stephen Villines to toss the final three innings for his third save on the season.
Freshman lefty Ryan Jackson earned his first-career start and lasted one and two-third innings. KU then turned it over to freshman Ryan Ralston (1.1 IP), sophomore lefty Jeremy Kravetz (1.0 IP), junior righty Sam Gilbert (2.0 IP), freshman righty Brandon Johnson (0.0 IP), before Villines entered the game in the seventh. Gilbert’s effectiveness earned him his first career win as a Jayhawk.
“The plan going into the game was to try to go two innings (on the mound) at a time,” Price said. “We had a couple of guys that couldn’t make it that long. We walked 13 and hit one batter – there were a lot of runners left on base.”
Kansas erased many of those runners thanks to turning four double plays, three to end the inning. That was the most double plays turned by a Kansas team since April 29, 2007, when KU accomplished the same feat at Oklahoma.
“We turned four double plays which were the difference in the ballgame,” Price said. “It got us out of trouble without them scoring and held them at bay after we had the 9-1 lead.”
The Jayhawks took a page out of their book from last night and hung a two-spot on the scoreboard in the first inning. Junior second baseman Colby Wright wore his NCAA-leading ninth hit-by-pitch to get on with two outs. Tinsley followed and worked a 3-1 count before turning on an inside fastball and launching it 350 feet down the right-field line for the second dinger of his career and give KU the early lead, 2-0.
Kansas switched gears for the second inning and showed off the small-ball skills. Senior left fielder Connor McKay led it off with a single up the middle to get ’em on. Beck followed with a beauty of a bunt to get ’em over and what do you know, junior designated hitter Steve Goldstein drove one to right field to get ’em in.
Protacio and sophomore centerfielder Joven Afenir kept it alive with back-to-back RBI-singles to build to the lead, 5-0, but the Jayhawks couldn’t capitalize any further and stranded two ducks on the pond to end the frame.
GCU squeaked a run out in the home half of the second, after Jackson gave up a lead-off single and three-straight walks to plate a run for the ‘Lopes, 5-1.
Beck took that run right back, blasting an opposite field home run over the wall in right field for his fourth round-tripper on the year to regain the five-run cushion, 6-1. That was the first multi-home run game on the season for the Jayhawks.
“I thought we had better at bats today,” Price said. “It was one of those days where it is hard to hit because they made so many pitching changes. We had some good, clutch two-out RBIs and most importantly, we needed to put runs on the board to have a chance (at the win).”
Kansas kept pouring it in in the fourth, tacking on another three runs. With bases juiced and GCU’s hurler struggling, Smith knew he needed to be aggressive if he wanted to do some damage. The experience paid off and Smith roped a double down the left-field line driving in all three baserunners and pushing the lead to eight, 9-1.
The ‘Lopes fought back in the bottom half of the fourth and mustered three runs to pull within five, 9-4. The KU bullpen issued two singles and a walk, while the defense bobbled the ball to aid in the GCU effort in the frame.
Both teams held each other scoreless through the latter parts of the game until an error by KU in the bottom of the ninth allowed Grand Canyon to score one final run to give KU the victory, 9-5.
In total, 11 different pitchers saw action in the game combined between both teams. Villines was the only pitcher of the game to toss at least three innings, closing the door for his nine-out save.
Kansas returns to the diamond to open up Hoglund Ballpark March 6-8, as the Jayhawks play host to Utah for a three game set. Fans can watch the action live on ESPN3, or tune in to live audio on the Jayhawk Radio Network via KUAthletics.com/Radio or on the official Kansas Jayhawks mobile app.
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