Jayhawk Insider: Twice as nice
Every baseball series in the Big 12 Conference is a dogfight and last weekend was no different as the Jayhawks were stacked against the Oklahoma State Cowboys – the number two team in the league. Kansas entered the three game set with high expectations after averaging 12 runs in its last two games.
However, things took a turn for the worse after the first game of the series.
There had been a strong wind blowing before first pitch, and it continued throughout the contest. For a fly-ball pitcher like Jayhawk starter Ryan Cyr, the results were disastrous.
The Cowboys took full advantage of the wind and launched a record-setting 12 home runs during the contest. Kansas did not hit a single home run and the bullpen combined to give up 17 runs where Oklahoma State won the game by a final score of 27-6.
The Jayhawks were on the wrong side of history; Oklahoma State set records for the most runs and home runs allowed by a Kansas team during Friday’s contest.
After the game, head coach Ritch Price did not hang his head. Skip was determined to get his squad back on track for the second game of the series.
“This was obviously a really tough day to pitch. If you hit a ball in the air today, the ball was a home run,” Price said. “We’ll need Ryan Zeferjahn’s best effort tomorrow to keep the ball in the ballpark.”
Skip may not have felt discouraged, but the Jayhawks received negative attention on a nation-wide scale for the humiliating loss, appearing on “Sports Center” Friday night. The team also faced ridicule on Twitter immediately following a tweet of the final score.
So, heading into game two on Saturday, it was easy to see that the Jayhawks’ backs were pressed against the wall. They had just suffered one of the worst losses in program history and faced the tall task of beating a team that they had just lost to by 21 runs in order to redeem themselves.
However, with junior righty Ryan Zeferjahn on the mound for the Jayhawks, there was a silver lining. Zeferjahn had not surrendered a home run all season.
Game two started out just how the first game ended: with a pair of Oklahoma State home runs in the first inning. That didn’t deter Zeferjahn and he did not let the game get away from him. He went on to pitch five scoreless innings and tied his career record in strikeouts with 14.
No one was more proud of Zeferjahn’s performance than Skip.
“When Oklahoma State put up the two home runs in the first inning, we were thinking, ‘Oh no, here it goes again,'” said Price. “It is like I told our players, we are pitching one of the best guys in the country in Ryan Zeferjahn. Baseball momentum is tied to your starting pitcher. We needed that great performance from Zeferjahn, and I couldn’t have been more proud of him.”
After Oklahoma State tied the ballgame in the top of the eighth, Kansas started a rally in the bottom of the ninth.
It began with a single up the middle by senior Blake Shinkle. Then a double to left center by sophomore Brett Vosik that put two men in scoring position with only one out.
The stage was set for redshirt-sophomore Dylan Ditzenberger, who was having tough luck at the dish. He was 0-for-3 when he stepped up to the plate at the moment.
After taking a called first strike from Oklahoma State’s closer Ben Leeper, Ditzenberger roped a single down the first base line and drove in Shinkle to give Kansas a 5-4 victory.
Skip was so fired up about the win and his team’s bounce-back performance that he and Ditzenberger connected for two postgame chest bumps in the dugout. However, it was the full team effort that impressed Price the most.
“How about Blake Shinkle,” said Price. “He gets that base hit to start it and then Brett Vosik hits the ball in the gap. What a great at bat for Ditzenberger. It ends up being a great team win – I am just really proud of our guys. To get boat raced like we did yesterday, it took great toughness to bounce back today and do what we did.”
With the series tied at a game apiece, Sunday’s edition was even more important. Kansas turned to redshirt-freshman Eli Davis to hold back the aggressive Oklahoma State offense.
Davis pitched five innings, allowing five runs and left the game with the Jayhawks trailing, 5-2.
Senior Rudy Karre wasn’t about to let his team go down without a fight. The Arizona native launched a game-tying, three-run home run in the seventh inning to even the score for the Jayhawks.
The game remained tied until the top of the 10th frame when Oklahoma State got a run back and regained the lead.
However, Kansas continued to fight, as sophomore third baseman Skyler Messinger knocked a RBI-triple into center field to even the score again.
After relief pitcher Blake Goldsberry threw a scoreless frame in the top of the 11th, the Jayhawks rallied once again.
A leadoff walk by Vosik to start the bottom of the 11th inning brought the hero from the day before to the plate with the opportunity to drive in the game-winning run for a second-consecutive day.
“Going in, just knowing that every at-bat could be our last, and knowing that every run that they scored could potentially beat us, it really makes every run put on the board that much more important,” said Ditzenberger.
Ditzenberger delivered for his team as he slapped a 2-0 fastball into left-center field for a double that was deep enough to score Vosik. In a sense of dejá vu, the Texas-native cleared the benches as his teammates surrounded him and this time he received three postgame chest bumps from Skip.
The victory was another team effort, but Skip credited the bullpen for keeping the ‘Hawks in the game long enough for the offense to score the winning run.
“Obviously, it was a special moment and a special weekend for (Ditzenberger),” said Price. “I would like to compliment our pitching. I think Eli Davis went out there and grinded through five innings when he was sick prior to the game, and our bullpen did a really good job of keeping them (Oklahoma State) at bay with runners in scoring position. There were numerous innings where we were able to get out of trouble and I can’t say enough about the job that the bullpen did. We had a clutch hit from Messinger in the 10th inning to tie the game, and he’d had a really tough day leading up to that. Ditzenberger comes up and has a great at bat, he’s on time, and Vosik was flying around those bases.”
This series isn’t the first time that a team of Skip’s has taken a beatdown on Friday night only to turn around and win the next two games to steal the series victory away from a Big 12 opponent.
Last May, Kansas lost to West Virginia 21-3 on Friday night and responded by winning both of the remaining games in the series.
This year’s team seemed to channel that series against WVU for motivation to find a way to win. The Jayhawks also seemed to find a sense of identity that they have been searching for most of the season as they came back from a deficit not once, but twice in the series.
It had previously been a tough season for this Kansas team when they found themselves trailing an opponent late in the game. Their record was 0-13 when trailing after eight innings. One could say that they were the exact opposite of a comeback team.
During the series, Kansas had a run differential of minus-19. This means that the Cowboys outscored the Jayhawks by 19 runs and still lost the series. The statistic truly speaks to the mental and physical toughness of the entire Jayhawk squad.
The impressive series victory is a testament to the resilience of the Jayhawks’ Skipper. Price and his team could have easily folded the rest of the weekend after the blowout they suffered in game one of the series. Instead, they showed grit and determination while fighting their way to an important series victory over the Cowboys.
“I think we addressed it pretty well,” said Price. “One of the things we talked about is, you have to be tough. When that wind is blowing like that, that was a wiffle ball game on Friday. A lot of those balls were just routine fly-ball outs that flew out of the ballpark. It takes great team chemistry and great toughness to bounce back from that, but it starts with starting pitching. Zeferjahn did it for us yesterday and our entire pitching staff did it today to find a way to get a win and win the series.”
The series against the Cowboys gives the Kansas players momentum as they go deeper into conference play at West Virginia this week.
“I thought it was a really good weekend,” said Ditzenberger. “Obviously, we lost the first one. Just being able to bounce back and win the next two games was huge for us moving forward in the Big 12.”