Jayhawks Stun Shockers in 11-inning Fashion, 13-12
WICHITA, Kan. – In a game that saw a combined 25 runs off 30 hits and 13 pitchers, the Kansas baseball team used its role players to perfection to pull off the come-from-behind win, 13-12, over Wichita State in 11 innings Wednesday night at Eck Stadium.
Kansas (11-17, 1-2 Big 12) trailed from the second inning on until a clutch one-out hit by freshman shortstop Matt McLaughlin drove in two runs to tie the game up at 12 in the eighth inning and give the Jayhawks a chance at the comeback.
“That was a huge at bat,” head coach Ritch Price said. “McLaughlin is a really good player. He is trying to go the other way, that is his whole approach at the plate. He smoked that ball to right field to drive in two and tie the ballgame.”
It took three more innings to decide the fate of the game when senior right fielder Dakota Smith dropped down the safety squeeze in the 11th inning to drive in the go ahead run and seal up the victory over the Shockers (11-17).
“What a great team win,” Price said. “The position players that came off the bench did a fabulous job and (associate head) coach Ryan Graves mixed and matched it out of the bullpen to stay out of trouble, and we found a way to win late. It was a great win.”
The unlikely hero on the hill for Kansas was sophomore southpaw Jeremy Kravetz (1-0). The hurler didn’t make a single appearance his entire freshman campaign and only pitched three and one-third innings this season late in the game when the outcome had already been decided. That didn’t faze Price as he made a move to the lefty to start the 10th, and he shut the door facing seven batters to pick up his first career win.
“Our team really needed a win,” Kravetz said. “To go in the game in the 10th inning with score tied and pitch through the 11th, it is always fun. I have pitched in some big games in the past, obviously not as big as Wichita State, but I was confident in my ability to throw strikes and let my defense work.”
The defense worked hard to keep WSU off the scoreboard, especially with KU’s struggles on the mound. Junior third baseman Tommy Mirabelli flashed some leather and started two key double plays to save runs and end innings. McLaughlin added a backhand pick in the bottom of the 10th to catch the lead runner sleeping at second and saved another run from scoring.
“How about the play by Mirabelli,” Price said. “The double play he made with bases loaded was great, but how about the backhand pick that started the five-four-three double play. We had to do something special defensively with the way we were struggling on the mound and that play was it. Then in the 10th inning, the play by McLaughlin. Just an absolute phenomenal play by the freshman in his first game at shortstop at the University of Kansas.”
The defense held its own while the Kansas bats kept chipping away to find a way to win. Eight different players registered at least one of the Jayhawks’ 13 hits, while three different players hit home runs. Smith highlighted the day with five RBIs, tying a career high, with four coming in the first inning when he hit the second grand slam of his career.
Sophomore centerfielder Joven Afenir and Mirabelli each drove one over the wall for the second home runs of their career, while McLaughlin and Mirabelli each added two RBIs a piece. Senior first baseman Blair Beck mustered a hit on his final at bat of the game to extend his hitting streak to 11 games, while senior left fielder Connor McKay was held hitless to snap his 15-gamer.
Kansas hit up WSU starter Sam Hilliard for five runs in the first inning, largely in part on a huge swing by Smith in his first game back in over two weeks. Afenir led things off with a single to left field and moved to second on the McLaughin sacrifice bunt. McKay drew the one-out walk before sophomore designated hitter Michael Tinsley smoked a RBI-single through the left side to break open the scoring, 1-0.
Junior second baseman Colby Wright stuck to his usual routine of getting on base and wore his 15th hit-by-pitch of the season to load the bases with two outs for the senior Smith making his debut in over two weeks. Smith took a page out of his own playbook from last March and took a 1-1 fastball over the wall in left center for the granny to run up a five-spot for the Jayhawks in the first, 5-0.
The Shockers used the five-run top of the first as motivation and ran up a four-spot on junior righty Hayden Edwards in the home half of the frame. Edwards gave off a leadoff double, a one-out RBI-single, one-out double and then a walk to load the bases for Hilliard. The Wichita State hurler redeemed himself with a three-run double to right-center field to cut KU’s lead to one run, 5-4.
Edwards lasted just one-third of the inning, giving up four runs on four hits and a walk, before Kansas called to its bullpen to bring in the big sophomore righty, Sean Rackoski to get the final two outs of the stanza.
WSU kept rolling in the second and took the two-run lead, 7-5, with three runs off Rackoski, including a two-run shot by Shocker first baseman Ryan Tinkham.
The Shockers threatened another big inning in the third loading the bases with no outs. However, a huge stop by Mirabelli at third and the quick throw home to freshman catcher TJ Martin and then the toss to Beck at first for the five-two-three double play kept them off the board. Rackoski struck out WSU centerfielder Michael Burns to end the inning and keep it a two-run game, 7-5.
The big bat of Afenir delivered the Jayhawks a run in the top half of the fourth. The sophomore drove a 3-2 pitch over the wall in dead-center field for the second ding dong of his career to cut Wichita State’s lead to one, 7-6.
The Kansas bullpen struggled in the fourth and allowed another four-run inning to the Shockers. Freshman Casey Douglas got the nod to start the frame and gave up all four runs, in part by three hits, two wild pitches and a walk before senior reliever Colin Toalson came on in relief to induce the final out with KU trailing, 11-6.
Mirabelli inched the Jayhawks closer in the sixth with the second bomb of his career to pull within three, 11-8. Wright led off the inning with a walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Then with two outs, Mirabelli blasted a two-run shot to right field, clearing the wall on a line and putting some life back into the KU dugout.
After getting a run back in the seventh, KU tied the game up, 12-12, in the eighth, thanks to the bat of McLaughlin. Smith started the rally with a walk before Martin singled to get two men on and force another Wichita State pitching change. Mirabelli followed with a walk to load the bases with no outs for the top of the KU lineup.
McLaughlin clutched up with one out and drove a two-run single to right field to knot the game up and give the Jayhawks a fighting chance.
After both teams held one another scoreless in the ninth and 10th inning, Kansas went back to basics in the 11th to manufacture the eventual winning run. Tinsley led off with a double off the wall in right field to set up the sacrifice bunt by sophomore catcher John Remick to move him to third. Following the intentional walk to Wright by WSU hurler Isaac Anderson (2-4), Smith dropped the safety squeeze to score Tinsley and seal up the win, 13-12, in favor of the Jayhawks.
Kansas continues its eight-game road trip trekking south to Oklahoma for a three-game Big 12 series against the Sooners, April 2-4, at L. Dale Mitchell Park. First pitch Thursday is slated for 6 p.m.
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