Jayhawks Sweep Season Series with Shockers, 11-6
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Backed by long balls from senior right fielder Dakota Smith and freshman shortstop Matt McLaughlin, the Kansas baseball team surged to an 11-6 victory over in-state rival Wichita State to complete the series sweep of the Shockers Tuesday night at Hoglund Ballpark.
KU has seen an influx of power at the dish the past few games and things were no different tonight as two different Jayhawks, Smith and McLaughlin, sent balls out of the ballpark to power the attack in the 11 run outburst. Smith mashed his sixth homer in the last 13 games while McLaughlin stroked the first of his career.
“He is gong to be a great player by the time he leaves here,” head coach Ritch Price said of McLaughlin. “He has made huge gains from the time he stepped foot on campus until now and we are excited to where he will be further in his career.”
Kansas (17-24) blasted 12 hits off the Shockers’ (14-26) pitching staff, taking advantage of a season-high 10 free passes to put up 11 more runs on WSU, marking its two-game total to 24. KU pitchers held Wichita State hitless through five frames before surrendering the first knock of the game with two outs in the sixth. Sophomore righty Sean Rackoski (2-3) picked up his second-career win on the hill, while sophomore closer Stephen Villines earned his Big 12-leading 10th save of the season.
Senior left fielder Connor McKay led all hitters with a 3-for-4 effort at the plate, driving in two runs and scoring twice, while freshman designated hitter Owen Taylor (2-for-2) and junior third baseman Tommy Mirabelli (2-for-3) boasted multi-hit performances. Smith tallied a team-best three RBIs, while senior first baseman Blair Beck drew a game-high three walks.
“I was proud of the way we hit the ball tonight,” Price said. “Give credit to our hitters, when they walk so many batters, it is not easy to hit. There were a lot of 3-1 and 3-2 counts and you are almost expecting to walk. Our guys did a great job of attacking at the plate.”
The Jayhawks went to work with the bats early. Senior second baseman Justin Protacio knocked a leadoff single and advanced to second on a fielding error by Wichita State’s left fielder. McKay followed him up with a double to right-center to break open the scoring, 1-0.
A leadoff walk for Wichita State in the second paired with a stolen base, balk and wild pitch allowed the Shocker runner to score and even the score, 1-1.
Defensive miscues helped the Shockers take the lead in the third. A fielding error by McLaughlin allowed Wichita State’s leadoff hitter to second. A wild pitch advanced the runner to third and a routine groundout to second brought him in for the 2-1 advantage.
McKay started things off for the Jayhawks in the bottom of the third with a single, and his fourth stolen base of the year put him in scoring position with no outs. Two-straight strikeouts had the makings of a scoreless inning, but a walk from Beck put runners on first and second for KU’s best hitter of late, Smith. The senior took a hack at the first pitch he saw soaring over the left field wall, but foul. He made it count two pitches later with a blast to left center, his sixth of the season, all of which have came in his last 13 games played.
The fourth inning started with another hit from McKay, his third of the game and he would come around to score by way of home run for the second time, this one from McLaughlin for his first-career dinger to stretch the lead, 6-2.
“It kind of took me by surprise,” McLaughlin said. “I haven’t even hit a home run in batting practice here at the Hog. McKay was running so I had to protect him. If he wouldn’t have been running I probably wouldn’t have swung, it was a fastball up and in, I just tried to fight it off and ended up sending it out.”
Taylor led off the fifth with a single and advanced to second on the Shockers’ second error of the game. An infield single from Mirabelli advanced Taylor to third and a walk from Protacio packed the bags for McKay. The left fielder worked a full count walk to remain perfect at the dish and bring in his second RBI of the night. Wichita State brought in their third pitcher of the contest with the bases still loaded. The reliever threw a wild pitch to score Mirabelli to bring the score to 8-2.
Rackoski found himself in trouble in the sixth, allowing two-straight singles to lead off the inning. Wichita State right fielder, Sam Hilliard, stepped to the plate and drilled a ball to straightaway center for a three-run homer and inch the Shockers closer, 8-5.
The Jayhawks took advantage of free passes in the bottom of the sixth, scoring a run off three walks and a hit-by-pitch to go up by four, 9-5.
Wichita State took advantage of a Kansas throwing error in the eighth stanza to bring in their sixth run of the game, but Kansas doubled the Shocker effort with a double from Taylor for his second hit of the game to score Beck from first and a single from Mirabelli to score Taylor and round out the scoring for the night, 11-6.
The Jayhawks hope to take the momentum with them as they travel to West Virginia for a three-game Big 12 Conference series against the Mountaineers, April 24-26. All three games can be heard on the Jayhawk Radio Network via KUAthletics.com/Radio.
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