KU Wins 10th-Straight Big 12 Game, Tops No. 18 TTU, 7-4
LUBBOCK, Texas – Senior left fielder Connor McKay, sophomore catcher Michael Tinsley and freshman third baseman Matt McLaughlin combined for nine of the Jayhawks’ 15 hits, as the Kansas baseball team won its 10th-straight Big 12 Conference game, 7-4, over No. 18 Texas Tech Friday night at Rip Griffin Park.
The trio blasted three hits apiece for the Jayhawks (10-15, 1-0 Big 12), who snapped a three-game skid to open up conference play. McKay and Tinsley each added a RBI, while junior first baseman Ryan Pidhaichuk and sophomore centerfielder Joven Afenir drove in two runs each.
“It’s a great win for us,” head coach Ritch Price said. “When you are on a three-game losing streak and opening up conference play against a team ranked in the top-20 that played in the college world series last year – We swung the bats great and had great energy in our dugout.”
The story of the night, however, came on the bump with junior lefty Ben Krauth (5-2) battling through six and two-thirds innings for his fifth-straight win, preserving the Kansas bullpen in the process. Krauth allowed six hits and five walks in his 121-pitch effort, striking out a career-high eight batters in the process.
“I just complimented Krauth in front of our whole team,” Price said. “You have to get a big-time Friday night start and he gave us a tremendous effort. To go into the seventh inning and hold them to four runs, it allowed us to play offense.”
The Red Raiders (16-10, 1-3 Big 12) broke open the scoring in the bottom of the second inning after a one-out triple by right fielder Quinn Carpenter set the table for the easy RBI-ground out by third baseman Orlando Garcia to put TTU on top, 1-0.
The Jayhawks answered right back with a three-spot in the third inning. McKay, who extended his hitting streak to 13 games, singled to lead off the frame. Junior second baseman Colby Wright wore his 14th pitch of the season to put runners at first and second with no outs.
Tinsley followed and blasted a single up the middle to score McKay and tie the game up, 1-1. Afenir singled to left and Pidhaichuk hit into a fielder’s choice, scoring two more runs to give KU its first lead of the game, 3-1.
Kansas tacked on another run in the fourth inning after McLaughlin led off the frame with a walk before stealing second. A one-out double by McKay down the left field line scored the rookie and increased the Jayhawks’ lead, 4-1.
Krauth was dealing through four innings, giving up just one run to the Red Raiders. However, the southpaw ran into some trouble in the fifth and allowed Texas Tech to tie it up, 4-4. Krauth walked two batters in the inning and gave up three hits, amounting to the three-run fifth inning for TTU.
“My changeup was working great, (associate head coach) Ryan Graves called a great game and, as always, Tinsley was a wall behind the plate,” Krauth said. “All of those factors make it a lot easier for me to go out there and throw.”
With that in mind, Krauth buckled down and went back out in the sixth only to throw up another zero on the scoreboard. In an effort to save the bullpen, Price decided to stick with the lefty into the seventh where he got the first two batters out before turning the ball over to sophomore closer Stephen Villines for his seventh save of the season.
“How about Villines, is he special or what?” Price said. “He goes out there and shuts the door against one of the top offenses in our conference. He is a big-time player for us.”
Villines picked up his seventh save, all of which six outs or more, giving up just two hits in the final two and one-third innings, while striking out two batters.
“You know what you are going to get from Villines,” Pidhaichuk said of the closer. “He come in and shuts the door. It is a lot of fun playing behind pitchers like that.”
The save wouldn’t have been possible, however, if the Jayhawks didn’t break open the tie in the sixth inning, thanks to RBIs by Pidhaichuk and Afenir.
Wright drew the one-out walk, Tinsley singled and senior right fielder Blair Beck walked to load the bases. Afenir hit into the fielder’s choice for the RBI, while Pidhaichuk followed with a two-out RBI-single to center field to put Kansas back on top, 6-4.
KU added another insurance run in the eighth, before Villines closed the door to preserve the victory, 7-4.
The two teams are back in action, Saturday, March 28, for game two of the three-game conference series. First pitch is set for 2 p.m. and can be heard live on the Jayhawk Radio Network via KUAthletics.com/Radio.
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