Jayhawks Even Series with No. 9 Cowboys, 3-2
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Behind a season-high seven inning outing from senior righty Drew Morovick, the Kansas baseball team rallied against arguably the best pitcher in the league to outlast No. 9 Oklahoma State, 3-2, Saturday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.
Morovick (3-3) paced the Jayhawks (14-21, 2-6 Big 12) with seven solid innings, giving up seven hits without allowing a run to cross the plate. The hurler struck out five batters in his 106-pitch effort, but most importantly, worked out of several jams with runners in scoring position where he vociferously charged off the mound each time.
“I was thrilled with Morovick’s performance today,” head coach Ritch Price said. “We needed seven great innings from him after using our bullpen last night. If he doesn’t go seven today, we are really depleted in bullpen.”
Three-straight innings (3-5), the Cowboys (24-10, 8-3 Big 12) applied pressure to Morovick and the Kansas defense, getting runners into scoring position with less than two outs. The hurler buckled down and allowed his “D” to work, stranding two runners in each of three frames. The hurler hung up seven zeroes in the win, but none more important than in the seventh inning when junior second baseman Colby Wright robbed a sure single up the middle to get the force play at second and get Kansas back in the dugout unscathed by the two runners left on base.
“The wind helped me a lot today,” Morovick said. “If I got behind 2-0, 3-2, I knew I could just throw one over the white and even if they got all of it, it would probably get knocked down by the wind. My defense helps out, they are always going to have my back no matter what.”
The Jayhawks handed OSU left-handed ace Michael Freeman (6-1) his first loss of the season in eight starts on the bump. Freeman entered the contest with the third-best ERA in the league at 1.46, while ranking second in opponent batting average (.174) and third in strikeouts (50). That didn’t faze the Kansas bats as the squad notched seven hits off the southpaw scoring three runs, though none of them earned.
“We have great character on this team,” Price said. “There are great guys in that dugout, they care, they’re invested and they work hard. We’ve lost three games with leads late in conference. To have the lead late last night and give it up, then to bounce back with this win today, it speaks volumes to the character in the dugout.”
Seven different KU players combined for the team’s hit total on the day with senior first baseman Blair Beck leading the way with a 1-for-3 effort at the dish, including a walk, two RBIs and a run scored. Senior left field Connor McKay (1-for-4) and freshman third baseman Matt McLaughlin (1-for-4) each added a run scored.
The story of the day seems to be the backend of the Kansas bullpen. Price called upon sophomore closer Stephen Villines (8) to close out the final two innigns of the game. The sidearm hurler is coming off a week where he blew two saves at Oklahoma with a four run and one run lead, respectively.
Price instilled all the confidence in the world sending him out there with the 3-0 lead in the eighth, but the Cowboys did their best to make things interesting putting up a two-spot against Villines. The hurler gave up the one-out walk to start the rally before Oklahoma State centerfielder Cory Hassel smoked a double to right field to put runners at second and third with less than two outs. Bradley followed with the sacrifice fly to cut the lead to two, before catcher Bryan Case singled to third to drive in another runner and send it to the ninth with KU having the one-run advantage, 3-2.
Villines put that eighth frame behind him and sat the Cowboys down one-two-three in the ninth to pick up his Big 12 second-best eighth save of the season. An inning Price hopes will give his team some added confidence.
“For Villines to give up two runs in the eighth, get out of it, and then go shut them down in the ninth, man, he needed that. He needed that for a confidence booster – he needed to finish the deal. It gave him and the team great confidence moving forward.”
Both teams are back on the diamond for the series rubber match, Sunday, April 12. First pitch is slated for 1 p.m. and can be seen live on the Jayhawk Television Network within the state of Kansas, and on ESPN3 to those located outside state lines. Fans can also listen live on the Jayhawk Radio Network via KUAthletics.com/Radio or on the airwaves at KJHK 90.7 FM.
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