Jayhawks Sweep New Mexico in Midweek Set, 10-5

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – Solid pitching, disciplined bats and timely hitting lifted the Kansas baseball team to its first series sweep, albeit a two-game midweek set over New Mexico, 10-5, Wednesday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.
A new-look lineup by head coach Ritch Price had five players in positions they had not previously started at this season, helping the Jayhawks (13-20, 1-5 Big 12) earn their second-straight win over the Lobos (16-15, 8-7 MW), the fourth time KU has won two games in a row this season.
“I was really pleased with the way our defense played,” Price said. “Freshman Matt McLaughlin played well at shortstop again and junior Tommy Mirabelli played well at third. Senior Justin Protacio started at second and made a really nice stop. If we can continue to swing the bats at the level we are swinging them, we’ll make progress pitching as our guys get more innings deeper in the season.”
The scoring started early for the Jayhawks, scoring two runs in the first frame. Junior Steve Goldstein, who made his first-career start in right field, reached on a walk with one out and McLaughlin followed him up with an 11-pitch at bat that resulted with a single through the left side. Both runners inherited two free bases apiece after New Mexico’s starting pitcher, Mike Gould (0-1), committed two balks, scoring Goldstein. With McLaughlin at third, sophomore catcher-turned-left fielder Michael Tinsley hit a deep fly ball to left for the sacrifice, bringing the score to 2-0 and concluding the scoring in the first.
The scoring didn’t slow down in the second. Three-straight walks knocked Gould out of the game with just one out. Victor Sanchez entered the game for the Lobos, but like his predecessor, couldn’t find the plate and walked Protacio to score the fourth run of the game for the Jayhawks and brought Goldstein back to the plate with the bags packed. Goldstein proceeded to hit a grounder to Lobo second baseman Hayden Schilling who fired an errant throw to the shortstop and all runners were safe, including freshman catcher Tanner Gragg at home for his first-career run, the second run of the inning.
McLaughlin trotted to the plate for his second go-round, bases still loaded and showed the patience at the plate his teammates did prior, earning a walk, his first RBI of the game and the third run for the Jayhawks in the inning. The New Mexico pitching tightened up for an at bat and forced Tinsley to ground into a double play to end the inning, 5-0.
“You have to be disciplined at the plate to get the ball in the strike zone and have them set the table for you,” Price said. “When you get into midweek games, everybody in the country is short on the mound and they set the table for us, and our guys were disciplined enough to take advantage of it.”
There was a lull in run-scoring during the third inning for the Jayhawks, but the action picked back up in the fourth. Protacio garnered a one-out single to get things started. Assistant coach Ritchie Price saw an opportunity and put on a hit and run for Goldstein. The lefty smoked one through the right side and Protacio jogged to third with ease. With runners at the corners and one away, McLaughlin doubled to center, driving in his second run of the game and stretching the lead to six. Tinsley once again followed suit with a single and RBI, scoring junior Joe Moroney who was inserted as a pinch runner for Goldstein. Sophomore centerfielder Joven Afenir hit into a fielder’s choice but McLaughlin scored the third and final run of the inning bringing the score to 8-0.
The Lobos found a way to scratch a run across the plate in the fifth, but starter Sean Rackoski (1-2) had been lights out until that point. The run was the first Lobo he allowed to pass second on the day and only allowed one more to accomplish the feat, but Rackoski left him stranded at third to end the fifth and his day on the hill, exiting with the 8-1 lead and the win in-tact.
“I was really pleased with our at bats yesterday and today,” said the Skipper. “I thought Rackoski gave us five solid innings today. If we can continue to help him grow and mature and he can keep getting tougher in the process, he’s got the stuff to be an impact guy on the mound.”
The sixth inning belonged to freshman righty Ryan Ralston. Walking the first batter, Ralston forced the second batter he faced into a 5-3 groundout. Giving up another walk, the young gun clutched up and struck out two Lobos to end the inning.
“It was nice to see Ralston pitch the way that he is capable of pitching,” Price said. “He came into the game in the top of the sixth and got a couple of big strikeouts.”
The Jayhawks tallied another run in the sixth off a leadoff double by Moroney and yet another clutch RBI hit by the stellar freshman McLaughlin, rounding out his RBI total on the day at three and pushing the lead to 9-1.
“When we recruited Matt we knew he was going to be an impact player as a freshman,” Price said. “He’s exceeded our expectations. He’s a really good defender with professional-quality at bats. He can handle the bat and take the ball the other way as well as hit the breaking ball the other way. He’s a very good short game player with a very high baseball IQ. I’m really proud of him.”
Ralston plunked the leadoff man for New Mexico in the seventh and walked the second batter, forcing associate head coach Ryan Graves to make a call to the pen, bringing in lefty Jeremy Kravetz.
It took Kravetz just three batters to get out of the inning unscathed and get his teammates’ hot bats back to the dish.
Unfortunately for the southpaw, his teammates went down in order and he trotted back to the mound after the quick rest.
Each team added a run in the eighth, the Lobos’ off a leadoff double and two groundouts.
The Jayhawks’ run came from a leadoff single by Moroney and a two-out double by Afenir to score KU’s 10th run of the game and cap off the scoring by the home squad on the day.
The Lobos made a ninth inning push to try and make things interesting, scoring three runs off four hits. Kravetz buckled down to earn his first-career save and seal the Jayhawk victory, 10-5.
“These two wins are huge,” McLaughlin said. “It means quite a bit, especially since we lost two games last weekend that we could have won. Midweek games are huge. You can gain a lot of momentum for Big 12 play.”
Kansas is back in action at Hoglund Ballpark with a three-game set against the Big 12 leading Oklahoma State Cowboys, April 10-12.
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