Several Jayhawks Fueling Summer League Win Streaks
LAWRENCE, Kan. – More than 600 miles north of Hoglund Ballpark, one summer collegiate baseball streak came to an end Tuesday night while another, more than 1,200 miles to the east is still alive – both with Kansas Jayhawks playing leading roles.
Fueled in part by an eight-game hitting streak from KU outfielder Michael Suiter, the Duluth Huskies won seven in a row in Northwoods League play, before dropping a resumed contest against Willmar, 8-1, during the first game of a doubleheader in Minnesota Tuesday evening. Hours later, in Northern New York, Joe Moroney and Justin Protacio helped the Watertown Rams win their seventh-straight, while climbing from five games under .500 to first place in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League’s Western Division.
The Jayhawks may have scattered for the summer, but it’s apparent that the team is still hard at work and making valuable contributions for a number of summer programs.
Suiter, a junior from Kailua, Hawaii, who earned All-Big 12 Second Team honors in 2013, raised his average to as high as .294 with five hits in the first two games of a three-game series at St. Could (June 29-30). However, he went 0-for-4 in the third game of the series Monday as Duluth squeaked out a 1-0 victory for their seventh win. He took a 0-for-4 in Tuesday night’s loss to Willmar, but still ranks among the team’s top-five regular batters and has five doubles among his 32 hits in 29 games.
“The chemistry on the team is really good and we’ve been able to build on that,” Suiter said. “I haven’t reached (a groove) yet, but I’m getting close. I’ll have some games where I go 3-for-4 then follow it up with an 0-for-4 like last night. I’m working on my arm a lot, trying to get bigger and faster, too. Really my goal is to be more consistent at the plate.”
Kansas signee and Duluth teammate Aaron Hernandez had a scorching start to Northwoods League play with a .377 average through his first 16 games. After missing two weeks with a pulled hamstring, he returned to go 3-for-4 with two doubles to help the Huskies bounce back, 7-5, in game two Tuesday. The Antioch, Calif., native appears to be shaking off any rust from sitting out a season after playing shortstop at Diablo Valley College and could figure into KU’s infield plans immediately next season.
Like Suiter during Duluth’s streak, Moroney has provided a needed spark in Watertown, with the junior outfielder batting .450 (9-for-20) during the Rams’ seven-straight victories, including eight runs scored. Moroney saw a seven-game hit streak end in Tuesday night’s 3-2 win over Adirondack, though he did reach base, and has failed to get a hit in just three of the Rams’ 12 wins, one of which he didn’t bat in. The Pleasanton, Calif., native, who hit .296 in 20 games mostly as a reserve outfielder for KU this season, leads off for Watertown and leads the team with a .379 batting average and a .523 on-base percentage. Regarded by Kansas head coach Ritch Price as the best defensive outfielder he’s coached at Kansas, Moroney sees the summer as a second season of sorts.
“I’m treating it like my season and an opportunity to prove myself,” Moroney said. “The good thing about summer ball is that you get to make up your at-bats in the summer and still play good competition, college-level guys. For the most part, it has been good to get into a routine and know that I’m going to play every day.
“Coach Price has told me this and I know my game, but I’m not going to hit any home runs. Maybe I’ll pull one out by luck from time to time, but I know my game is to hit line drives gap-to-gap, and if I miss I need to have them be ground balls and have a chance to beat them out. It’s benefitted me to be in the leadoff role, see pitches, set the table and try to help out my teammates. The group of guys we’re playing with has meshed well. We’ve got good chemistry and it has a big effect on the winning streak we have going right now and I hope we keep it rolling.”
Part of that chemistry has been playing every day with teammates like Protacio and Kansas sophomore-to-be Jacob Boylan, who have also contributed to Watertown’s success. Protacio, who is working at shortstop this summer after spending most of the 2013 Kansas season as the Jayhawk’s regular second baseman, is second on the team with a .342 average in 14 games. Boylan has also made 14 appearances and is hitting .200.
Another group of Jayhawks are competing a little closer to Lawrence with Tom Hougland, Colin Toalson, Connor Murray and signee Jon Hander having all played in games for the Topeka Golden Giants.
Toalson and Murray have been a huge part of the Golden Giants 26-13 (22-11, Walter Johnson League) start to the summer as both have provided consistently good performances on the mound. Murray has a miniscule 0.87 ERA in 31.0 innings and the junior from Overland Park, Kan., has allowed just 17 hits and 11 walks for a 0.90 WHIP. Toalson has logged 33 innings over six games and is 3-1, with a 3.27 ERA. The Lawrence, Kan., native has been stingy with just seven walks and a 1.03 WHIP, and his 31 strikeouts are second on the team only to Murray’s 33.
Hougland has played in 13 games and has two doubles among his eight hits for a .229 average. The senior catcher has drawn 10 walks for a .438 on-base percentage. Hander, an incoming freshman from Sioux Falls, S.D., collected two hits, including a double in 12 at-bats over four games.
Back in the Northwoods League, Tucker Tharp logged multiple RBIs in three of his last nine games played for the Rochester Honkers. Tharp is batting .228, has 20 RBI in 28 games and has knocked five extra-base hits, including a pair of home runs. He’s joined on the Rochester roster by Hayden Edwards, who has made seven appearances out of the bullpen and is 1-1 on the season. Edwards had seven strikeouts and just one walk in 9.1 innings, before issuing four free passes in the Honkers’ 9-6 loss to St. Cloud Tuesday night. The 6-foot-8 sophomore-to-be won his first appearance on June 2, and posted a season-long 2.1 innings against Alexandria in his last outing in June.
Marcus Wheeler has played in 26 games for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters and has knocked in 10 RBIs. Wheeler was batting .242 heading into the last couple weeks of June but has one hit in his last seven games while trying to find his rhythm again.
“I’m getting a lot of at-bats and have had a lot of quality at-bats,” Wheeler said. “My stats don’t look great, but I’ve hit a lot of balls hard. I just can’t find a gap right now. I’m really trying to work on being more consistent.”
Elsewhere in the Northwoods League, Tommy Mirabelli has seven hits in 20 games for the Battle Creek Bombers. He’s drawn 11 walks, including three in the last three games he’s started.
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