Jayhawks Top Utah in Home Opener, 7-5

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – Nine different position players added to the 15-hit slugfest, as the Kansas baseball team opened up the 2015 home slate at Hoglund Ballpark with a 7-5 win over Utah Friday afternoon.
Senior first baseman Blair Beck paced the Jayhawks (6-8) with a 3-for-4 effort at the plate including a home run, two RBIs and two runs scored. Four other KU players tallied multiple-hit efforts, while freshman third baseman Matt McLaughlin collected his first multi-RBI game on the season (2).
“I thought we played really well offensively,” head coach Ritch Price said. “We got that first run early and the energy in our dugout the rest of the game was off the charts.”
Utah (2-11) belted 12 hits off the Kansas pitching staff with six of them off junior lefty Ben Krauth (2-2). The southpaw tossed six and two-thirds innings, giving up four runs in the process. Fellow classmate Sam Gilbert came on in relief for the final out in the seventh, before KU turned it over the sophomore closer Stephen Villines to pick up his Big 12-leading fourth save on the year.
“I was very pleased with Krauth on the mound today,” Price said. “He gave us a quality start and I couldn’t be happier with the way our bullpen closed it out.”
The Jayhawks were quick to get the bats moving, scoring in the bottom of the first after a RBI-single by sophomore catcher Michael Tinsley drove in junior second baseman Colby Wright home to give the Jayhawks a 1-0 lead.
The Utes were quick to answer in the top of the second after a hard-driven single up the middle led to two Utah’s first lead of the game, 2-1.
Sophomore centerfielder Joven Afenir tied it up in the bottom of the third, scoring off of a throwing error by the Utes second baseman Kody Davis. However, Kansas stranded its lone baserunner after senior right fielder Dakota Smith grounded out to end the frame with a tie score, 2-2.
The bats were blazing for the Jayhawks in the bottom of the fourth as they capitalized off of a struggling Utah pitching staff. Beck started off the party with a single to left field, followed by a double down the left field line by junior designated hitter Steve Goldstein, to put runners at second and third. McLaughlin joined in on the fun and cleared the bases with a two-run double to left center to add to the lead.
Senior shortstop Justin Protacio kept it rolling with a single up the middle before Afenir stroked one through the right side to score another run. The big inning ended with the Jayhawks tallying five hits and three runs to increase their lead, 5-2.
Beck kept the momentum and smoked his Big 12-leading fifth homerun of the season in the bottom of the fifth to drive in Smith, who doubled down the left field line to get on base. The Jayhawks added to their lead, 7-2, with two runs and three hits to end the inning.
The Utes were dormant through the middle innings until they put their bats and speed to work in the sixth. Thanks to a Krauth walk and a stolen base, Utah was able to cut the lead to four runs, 7-3.
“It was great to see all of the red and blue in the stands,” Krauth said. “It’s always good to play at home where you are familiar with the play of the field.”
A pitching change in the seventh brought Gilbert to the bump with two outs and one to-go. The Utes capitalized on a blast to left field to pull within three, 7-4.
Utah continued to chip away at the lead in the eighth to shake up Villines. The Utes had four hits and one run to bring the game within two, 7-5. Villines battled through the final two innings and ended any chance of the Utah comeback with his fourth save on the year.
The Jayhawks are back at Hoglund Ballpark, Saturday, March 7, for game two of the three-game set against Utah. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. Fans can watch the game live on ESPN3 or tune in to the live audio broadcast on the Jayhawk Radio Network via KUAthletics.com/Radio.
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