Jayhawks Claim Friday-Night Win Over WVU, 3-1
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Another solid pitching performance by a Kansas starter and the increasingly-more reliable bullpen, backed by timely hitting gave the Jayhawks a 3-1 edge over West Virginia Friday night at Monongalia County Ballpark.
The Jayhawks, who were plagued with pitching issues at the beginning of the season, have found their rhythm and have become dependable in a way head coach Ritch Price expected, especially from three slingers.
Ben Krauth (6-3) found his groove on the hill early and rarely faltered through the first six frames, striking out eight batters and picking three runners off at first, working a total of six and one-thirds innings. He handed the ball to his trusty bullpen in junior Sam Gilbert and closer Stephen Villines to finish the job for Kansas (18-24, 5-8 Big 12).
Kansas mustered seven hits off West Virginia (23-16, 5-8 Big 12), with sophomore designated hitter Joven Afenir (2-for-3) and junior third baseman Tommy Mirabelli (2-for-4) leading the way with two hits apiece, with both adding a RBI as well.
Batting leadoff for just the second game this season, Afenir led the game off with a single and moved to second on a grounder back to WVU’s starting pitcher, BJ Myers (2-3) by senior left fielder Connor McKay. A two-out single from sophomore catcher Michael Tinsley to right field looked like it would break open the scoring for the game, but an excellent throw and a questionable call at the plate ended the top of the first.
The Mountaineers were first to score, after a one-out error on a grounder to Mirabelli and a stolen base put a runner in scoring position for WVU first baseman Jackson Cramer, who sent a double to left-center to drive in the unearned run.
“One thing we preach here at Kansas is redeeming yourself,” head coach Ritch Price said. “When you commit a costly error, we say you have to go out and find a way to make up for it.”
Redemption was achieved by Mirabelli, who blasted a one-out triple in the fifth, the second three-bagger of his career, and scored the Jayhawks’ first run of the game on a sacrifice fly by Afenir to knot the game up, 1-1.
“Mirabelli did exactly what we ask of our players to do,” Price said. “He put the play in the past, went up to bat and made a difference for the team.”
A walk-single-walk combo from the next three batters loaded the bases for senior first baseman Blair Beck. Beck would not have to swing the bat for the second Jayhawk to cross the plate as Myers balked and McKay trotted home to take the lead, 2-1.
Through the first five innings, Krauth was dominant on the bump. The double to score the run in the first was the last runner he let see second base until the sixth. Heading to the sixth stanza, the lefty had accumulated six strikeouts and three pickoffs, but after a leadoff walk, a fly-out and another strikeout, he had trouble finding the plate and walked two batters to load the bases. The junior buckled down and struck out his eighth batter to end the side and retain the lead.
Krauth recorded an out in the seventh inning before Price elected to go to the bullpen to bring in Gilbert to finish the inning, a task in which he did dutifully, recording the two outs with just six pitches.
Price more changes heading to the bottom of the eighth, bringing in junior Ryan Pidhaichuk as a defensive substitution at first base and sending closer Stephen Villines to the mound. Those two, along with Tinsley would be the only three players to touch the ball, as Villines would field a grounder back at him and fire to Pidhaichuk for the first out and strike out the next two batters.
“Pidhaichuk is one of the best defensive players we have,” Price said. “To be able to send him out there in the late innings with the lead and know he is going to do his job is something I rely on.”
Senior second baseman Justin Protacio led off the top of the ninth with his fourth-career triple. An unsuccessful sacrifice fly attempt from junior centerfielder Joe Moroney kept Protacio at third, with Mirabelli up, one away. Mirabelli continued to avenge his first inning error by smacking a single through the right side to score Protacio for the insurance run, 3-1.
Villines and Pidhaichuk continued to close the door on the Mountaineers. The first two outs of the bottom of the ninth were all Pidhaichuk, a lineout and an unassisted grounder, followed by Villines inducing a lazy fly-out to center to end the contest for his Big 12 leading 11th save of the season.
“Villines had a couple of losses, but he has fought through that and has got back on track,” Price said. “He was just dominant on the mound tonight and that is what we needed from him to ensure the victory.”
With the possibility of inclement weather Saturday afternoon, both coaches agreed to move the game time up to 10 a.m. (CST). Fans can listen to the game live on the Jayhawk Radio Network while West Virginia offers a free stream of the game through Mountaineer TV.
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