Jayhawks Outlast Hawkeyes, 4-3

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning clinging to a one-run lead, senior first baseman Blair Beck scorched a 2-2 fastball over the head of Iowa’s left fielder for a two-run double, as the Kansas baseball team outlasted the Hawkeyes, 4-3, Friday night at Hoglund Ballpark.
Beck’s two-run double broke a 2-1 standstill to give the Jayhawks (9-12) the run support needed to seal its third victory in four games and outlast a late Iowa (12-5) comeback in the ninth.
“I thought it was a crucial at bat,” head coach Ritch Price said. “At the time, we had 10 or 11 hits, but only had two runs to show for it. We needed to add to it because at some point they were going to make a push. He (Beck) got behind early and battled, and then found a pitch he could hit and hit a laser to left – and we needed that.”
The win for KU wasn’t as crisp as anticipated. The Jayhawks struck out 13 times at the plate, didn’t draw a walk and starting pitcher junior lefty Ben Krauth (4-2) walked six batters. However, the young Kansas squad battled through and turned negatives into positives with 12 hits on the day, highlighted by the big two-out stroke by Beck.
“Krauth’s stuff wasn’t as good as it was last week,” Price said. “He had six walks in six innings, but was able to come battle back when he got in trouble and got some huge punch-outs.”
Senior left fielder Connor McKay (2-for-4), junior second baseman Colby Wright (3-for-4) and sophomore catcher Michael Tinsley (2-for-4) boasted multiple-hit efforts at the dish, while five other Jayhawks tallied at least one hit. Beck paced the offense with two RBIs, while McKay touched home twice.
Stacked against an Iowa pitching staff that entered the night with a team ERA of 1.98, Kansas knew it had its work cut out and needed to strike first to garner the momentum. Tinsley answered that call with a RBI-double in the first inning, scoring McKay after an infield single to put the Jayhawks on top, 1-0.
Hawkeye starter Tyler Peyton (2-2) settled in and tamed the KU bats until the fourth, when senior Justin Protacio smoked an RBI-single up the middle for the 2-0 Kansas lead. Senior right fielder Dakota Smith started the frame off with a one-out single before freshman designated hitter Owen Taylor followed with a single down the right-field line.
A botched safety squeeze with one out looked to end any hopes of a KU run in the fourth, but Protacio saved the day with his clutch single up the middle for one of the Jayhawks three two-out RBIs on the day.
Iowa battled for a run off Krauth in the fifth after the southpaw gave up a leadoff walk, one of six free passes on the day, to break up the shutout. Hawkeye centerfielder Eric Toole smoked a 1-2 pitch from Krauth to left center to move runners to second and third, setting the table for the RBI-groundout by second baseman Jake Mangler to cut KU’s lead in half, 2-1.
Krauth stuck it out and battled through the sixth to hang another zero, before turning the ball over to sophomore closer Stephen Villines (6) for his second three-inning save, though not as easy as his first.
“Villines threw a lot of pitches, and that’s not like him,” Price said. “He is usually really efficient, but he threw 67 pitches in the three innings he was out there. He made some really good pitches to get out of multiple innings with the bases loaded, and that was huge.”
It took the sidearm slinger 67 pitches to record career save No. 14, including a two-run ninth and a career-high five strikeouts.
Villines struck out the first two batters in the ninth, before giving up three-straight singles, including a two-run poke by Peyton, who stayed in the game at designated hitter once his day on the bump ended after six and one-third innings. The closer held on and struck out the final batter to preserve the Kansas victory, 4-3.
The two squads meet again Saturday, March 20, for game two of the three-game set. First pitch is set for 2 p.m., and can be seen live on ESPN3. Fans can also tune into the Jayhawk Radio Network via KUAthletics.com/Radio for a live audio broadcast.
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