Price Wins 400th as KU Skipper, Downs Michigan, 8-4
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Clutch performances by two true freshmen and the most experienced pitcher on staff played a key role in the Jayhawks’ 8-4 victory over Michigan Sunday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.
Knowing how important a series win against a power five conference opponent is at this stage of the season, head coach Ritch Price rallied his troops early before batting practice and delivered his best rendition of a pump up speech in hopes to get his team back on the winning track.
“As a coach you try to motivate your players and get them to understand there are times in the season that are critical,” Price said. “During those times you have to find a way to get a win.”
What the skipper didn’t realize was his speech had the makings of an eight-run, 14-hit outburst and a combined quality effort on the bump where his Jayhawks allowed four or fewer runs for just the sixth time all season.
“The biggest thing that happened today was that (senior righty) Drew Morovick went out on the mound and gave us five great innings,” Price said. “If he doesn’t take the ball today and hold them to two runs in five innings, we probably get beat.”
Uncertain if Morovick (2-2) could make it through five innings in his first start in over two weeks (Feb. 27), the Jayhawks (8-12) backed the hurler’s performance with 14 hits at the plate, with a combined five hits and four RBIs by KU’s two true freshmen in the day’s starting lineup; third baseman Matt McLaughlin and designated hitter Owen Taylor.
“Our players swung the bats well and took advantage of scoring opportunities,” Price said. “The two freshmen at the bottom of the lineup were huge today.”
McLaughlin blasted two RBI-singles, while Taylor went perfect at the dish with two doubles, a single, two RBIs and a walk. The duo combined for five of the Jayhawks runs on the day, as Taylor also scored once in the second inning.
“Today was just a fun day,” Taylor said. “I came out and saw my name on the lineup card and my parents came out this weekend, so it was a great opportunity for them to see me play. We swung the bats really well.”
Contributing more than half of the offensive attack, the two freshmen didn’t know they would have a direct impact on something far greater, a milestone for Price and the KU baseball program.
The win over Michigan (11-8) marked the 400th-career victory for Price as the Kansas head coach, and he became just the second coach in the history of the program to eclipse the 400-win mark, joining legendary coach Floyd Temple (437).
“I think it just means I have been fortunate enough to coach a bunch of really good players and be a part of some really good teams,” Price said. “It is a milestone that I am proud of, there is no doubt about that.”
Price didn’t make a huge deal about approaching a milestone, rather the importance of getting this season back on track, something the players really took to heart.
“I had no idea about Skip’s (Price) milestone until the game was over,” Taylor said. “We came to the ballpark today and he gave us a big speech that pumped us all up, everybody was pumped. We came out and got things done, and then to find out it was his 400th win at KU made it that much better.”
All nine position starters contributed to the hit total, with senior shortstop Justin Protacio (2-for-4), sophomore catcher Michael Tinsley (2-for-5), McLaughlin and Taylor adding multiple-hit efforts. In addition, KU tallied five extra-base hits including four doubles and a home run, while McLaughlin, Protacio and Taylor all posted multi-RBI days.
Senior left fielder Connor McKay kept his bat hot right from the start, blasting his second home run of the series in the first inning to grab the early momentum and start the scoring for the Jayhawks.
“I think any time you have a devastating loss like we had yesterday where you have the lead in the eighth inning and then you make a defensive miscue and can’t shut the door, you want to go out the next day and score early,” Price said. “When you score early, you get the energy and enthusiasm back in the dugout and we were able to do that today with McKay’s home run.”
The solo shot by McKay sparked a two-run first inning, which Kansas repeated the following two frames, to build an early 6-1 lead after three innings of play.
Michigan battled in the fourth to get a run back, before the Jayhawks added two more to their total in the sixth to push their lead to six runs, 8-2. The Wolverines snuck a run off KU junior reliever Hayden Edwards in the seventh inning, before hitting up sophomore closer Stephen Villines for a run in the eighth.
Villines closed the door, however, striking out four of the nine batters he faced to preserve in the win, 8-4.
The victory marked the first series win of the season for the Jayhawks, a number they hope to improve next weekend (March 20-22) as they host another Big Ten opponent in Iowa for a three-game set at Hoglund Ballpark.
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