Jayhawks Fall to K-State in Sunflower Showdown, 6-4
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas State scored five runs late, as the Kansas baseball dropped game two, and the series, of the Sunflower Showdown presented by Dillons, 6-4, Saturday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.
Kansas (22-32, 7-15 Big 12) cruised through the first seven innings of play, largely in part because of the reliable arm of senior righty Drew Morovick making his final start on the hill at the Hog. For four years, the 6-foot-5 hurler has been a mainstay of the KU pitching staff, and head coach Ritch Price and the rest of the coaches turned to Morovick in the eighth inning and he only had one thing to say.
“I told (associate head coach Ryan) Graves that I wanted the ball,” Morovick said. “I wasn’t going to leave it up to someone else. If we were going to lose, it was going to be on my shoulders, nobody else.”
That selfless mentality exhibited by the senior, in what might be his last game at the University of Kansas, is nothing new, as Morovick has been a team player form the get go. If the Jayhawks needed someone to start a midweek game, he was there. If they needed to use him in relief on the weekend, he was there. His final game at the Hog was nothing more than brilliant, until the eighth inning.
“We had all the confidence in the world in Morovick,” sophomore catcher and battery mate Michael Tinsley said. “He was so effective through seven innings, but when you see a pitcher for seven innings as a hitter, that fourth or fifth at bat, you become more comfortable and familiar with his pitches.”
With a 4-1 lead, Morovick strutted to the mound to start the eighth inning. Having never pitched more than seven and one-third innings in his career, it was a tall task to ask the hurler to head back out there with one of the best closers in the Big 12 warming up in sophomore Stephen Villines (3-5), but Graves had something different in mind.
With Villilnes struggles against left-handed hitters and K-State (26-27, 10-13 Big 12) sending back-to-back lefties to the plate to start the eighth, Graves opted to use Morovick to try and get the first two hitters out before bringing in his closer. However, the plan back-fired as the Wildcats smoked three-straight singles to start the frame.
“I think coach Graves’ mindset was – he was throwing the ball so well,” Price said. “He had such a great seventh inning. He was trying to get through the two left-handed hitters before going to Villines and that pretty much sums up our year right there. We are real close to being good, but not quite good enough to get over the hump.”
The hump has been there all year for the Jayhawks whose struggles on the mound proved detrimental in the majority of their losses. With the lack of depth in its bullpen, Kansas had to rely on its closer in almost any relief situation, not just save situations. Through it all, Villines still put together one of the top sophomore campaigns Price could ask for that includes 12 saves and 55 strikeouts in 51 innings pitched.
“We are an arm short in the backend of our bullpen to give Villines some help,” Price said. “We have been asking a lot of that young man. Despite it all, the kid is having a great year.”
Villines took the mound in the eighth with no outs and runners at first and second. Not the ideal situation for a closer to come into, but Villines has been asked to do far worse throughout the season. The sidearm slinger gave up a RBI-double to K-State’s first baseman Shane Conlon, before a fielder’s choice loaded the bases.
Villines was able to induce the 4-3 double play and the foul out to Tinsley behind the dish, but the damage was done and the Wildcats tied it up late, 4-4.
Even after Kansas State rallied with a three-run eighth inning and took the lead with a two-run ninth, that same energy and fight that the Jayhawks showed in the early innings came to life in the bottom of the ninth.
Price called to his bench and sent junior Jacob Boylan in to pinch hit against the Wildcats’ reliever Lucas Benenati (2-0). Boylan drove one on a line to centerfield to lead off the home half. Junior Steve Goldstein followed and hit into a fielder’s choice for the first out of the inning. Price then called to sophomore Joven Afenir in another pinch hit situation and he drilled one hard and on a line right at the right fielder for the second out.
With two down, senior second baseman Justin Protacio headed to the plate. Not wanting his season cut short, the lefty bat poked one through the left side to bring the winning run to the dish in senior left fielder Connor McKay. Everyone in the stadium knows McKay had the chance to win it with one swing, however, the baseball gods were not on his side this time as he hit one hard and up the middle but Benenati made a nice snag for the final out and end KU’s hopes of winning the Sunflower Showdown, 6-4.
“We had the go ahead run to the plate and we needed someone to do something special, just like K-State did,” Price said. “Their guy made a great play on the ball McKay hit and that’s that.”
McKay and Tinsley led Kansas with two hits and a RBI a piece, while six other Jayhawks collected a base knock to add to KU’s 10 hits on the day. Of the four runs scored, three came with two outs, with senior first baseman Blair Beck driving in two in the first inning off a two-out single.
The final game of the Sunflower Showdown presented by Dillons is slated for a 2 p.m. start, Sunday, May 17. The game will be broadcasted live on the Jayhawk Television Network (JTV) throughout the state of Kansas and the Kansas City Metro area, and on ESPN3 outside the coverage area. Visit KUAthletics.com/JTV for more information on the coverage area.
Fans wanting a more traditional game experience can tune in to a live audio broadcast on the Jayhawk Radio Network on KJHK 90.7 FM or at KUAthletics.com/Radio.
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