Kansas Falls in Sunday Finale to Utah, 8-4

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – Sophomore left fielder Joven Afenir and sophomore designated hitter Marcus Wheeler blasted their first-career home runs, as the Kansas baseball team dropped the rubber match to Utah, 8-4, Sunday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.
Both Afenir and Wheeler took first-pitch fastballs over the fence with Wheeler’s two-run shot in the ninth happening in a pinch-hit situation with two outs. It has been exactly six years to the day since the Jayhawks (6-10) saw a pinch-hit home run, with Brian Heere the last to do so March 8, 2009, against Northwestern.
“It was a big swing by Wheeler,” head coach Ritch Price said. “For him to come back from a serious leg injury – he had a really good swing of the bat against that lefty. I was pumped up that he had a chance to go up there with two outs and drive that ball out of here.”
Kansas was outhit 14-8 by the Utes (4-11) including three extra-base hits. Freshman lefty Blake Weiman (0-2) gave up six of those hits in his career-high four innings pitched in the loss. Utah hurler, Jayson Rose (1-2) held KU to four hits and two runs through five innings picking up his first win on the season.
“They have really good pitching,” Price said. “That is as good of pitching as we have seen since we played at LSU – they just flat-out out-pitched us. They commanded the ball and did a really good job, and I tip my cap to them.”
Junior second baseman Colby Wright led the Jayhawks with two hits (2-for-4), while Wheeler paced KU with two RBIs and a run scored, thanks to his ninth-inning bomb. Utah saw five players with multi-hit performances, with shortstop Cody Scaggari a perfect 4-for-4 with three RBIs and three runs scored.
It was déjà vu in the first inning when Scaggari smoked the long ball down the left field line to give the Utes their first run of the game and the early 1-0 lead; a page out of his playbook from yesterday after the three-run jack to seal the game up for the Utes, 5-1.
It was a wild ride for the Jayhawks defensively in the top of the third due to two wild pitches from Weiman that resulted in the Utes putting a two-spot on the board and advancing Scaggari to third. A ground out to short with one out on the board was enough to score, pushing the Utes lead 3-0.
Afenir put on a show in the bottom of the fourth with his first-career bomb to left field that put the Jayhawks on the board, 3-1. KU capitalized on two Utah errors after senior centerfielder Joe Moroney wound up on third after he hit a fly ball that was misplayed by the Utah leftfielder and then a throw was mishandled by the shortstop. Sophomore catcher Michael Tinsley followed him up with a sacrifice fly to right field to bring in the runner, making the score 3-2.
“It was a pretty good feeling,” Afenir said in regard to his homerun. “It is a confidence booster and adds a little bit to my game.”
Two different Jayhawk pitchers saw action in the fifth inning freshman right-hander Ryan Ralston started the inning and surrendered a run before being replaced by fellow freshman righty Casey Douglas. Douglas finished out the inning and went on to pitch a career-high three and two-thirds with three strikeouts, but not before giving up three runs to make the score 6-2.
“Injuries and a five-game week left us really short on the mound,” Price said. “Guys are making their first starts and are being used in different roles than what they are used to.”
The eighth inning gave the Jayhawks a chance to cut the lead with a singles from Wright and Moroney; however, that proved to be the only offense the struggling Jayhawks could muster up, leaving the two runners stranded.
A pitching change came in the ninth for the Jayhawks as sophomore lefty Jeremy Kravetz took the bump for his third-career appearance and closed out the frame.
In the bottom of the ninth, senior right fielder Dakota Smith wore a pitch to get on base in hopes Wheeler could put something together. He exceeded expectations with his career-first bomb to left center on the first pitch to pull the game within four, 8-4. Senior shortstop Justin Protacio could not continue the rally and struck out looking to end the game.
“I was looking early in the count trying to get a fastball,” Wheeler said. “I wanted to put a good swing on it and help my team out.”
Kansas was stagnant through the majority of the game offensively with the exception being the dingers from both Afenir and Wheeler.
The Jayhawks return to Hoglund Ballpark Tuesday, March 9, for a 3 p.m. matchup against Central Michigan. The game is the first of eight to be televised on the Jayhawk Television Network with a live audio broadcast also available on the Jayhawk Radio Network. For more information on either please visit KUAthletics.com/TV or KUAthletics.com/Radio.
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