On the heels of a disappointing, could-have-won Game 2 loss to Baylor at Hoglund Ballpark on a gloomy and wet Sunday afternoon, the Kansas baseball team needed a big time effort from someone in the Sunday afternoon finale to salvage the series.
As it turned out, the Jayhawks got clutch contributions from three different players in a 6-1, seven-inning victory, with freshman pitcher Ryan Zeferjahn tossing four scoreless innings and sophomore Devin Foyle and freshman James Cosentino blasting two-run home runs in the third and fourth to help the Jayhawks avoid the sweep.
“We talked Friday about this being the biggest series of the year,” said KU coach Ritch Price after Sunday’s 10-hour, doubleheader marathon during which KU’s 3-1, opening-game loss was pushed back three times because of rain. “And after we dropped the first one, there’s no doubt that the second game today was the biggest game of the year.”
Zeferjahn certainly pitched like it was. The righty from Topeka was far from perfect but showed a ton of competitive grit to give Kansas a chance.
After watching Baylor load the bases in the top of the first inning, Zeferjahn delivered a huge strikeout to get out of the jam. In the very next inning, with more trouble on the base paths behind him, Zeferjahn again punched a batter out at home plate to keep zeroes on the scoreboard and the momentum in the Kansas dugout.
“I got in trouble most of my innings,” Zeferjahn joked of his four-inning outing that featured no runs, three hits, three walks and three strikeouts. “But just being able to bear down and make good pitches to get out of those innings really helped.... Sometimes, going nine, you gotta pace yourself more, but I knew I was going short so I could attack every hitter more and more.”
Added Price: “We all knew it was gonna be a seven-inning game and those two strikeouts were crucial because the game could’ve got away from us in the first or second inning if they’d have got a clutch hit.”
Instead, it was Kansas with the clutch hits and the Jayhawks left the yard still at .500, both overall (22-22) and in Big 12 play (9-9).
“You drop that game today, you gotta win the last two series of the year just to get back to .500,” Price said. “So by salvaging that one today we control our own destiny. It’s absolutely crucial.”
Despite leading 6-0 heading into the top of the seventh, the Jayhawks watched Baylor (27-17, 8-10) load the bases and threaten to throw a wet blanket on an otherwise good ending to the weekend.
That’s when Price went to closer Stephen Villines, who needed just four pitches to get out of the jam and put the Jayhawks in the win column.
“It was like, ‘Hey, this was the last inning. Don’t let this guy single and all of a sudden he’s coming in with the tying run standing in the on-deck circle and it’s a nightmare,’” Price said. “We were gonna break the game up and use all three of our back-end guys to win the game, which we did. But Zeferjahn pitched a heck of a game. I mean, he’s the difference in the game. He was huge today.”
Normal Saturday starter Jackson Goddard got the ball in Sunday’s first game. And, usually when he has taken the mound, things have gone well for Kansas. But not Sunday.
Goddard’s line — 7 innings, 8 hits, 2 earned runs and 4 strikeouts — certainly was good enough to keep the Jayhawks in it, but he was not his usual dominant self and got no help from the KU offense, which struck out 10 times in the 3-1, opening-game loss.
“They were on time with his fastball,” Price said. “He didn’t throw a pitch under 92 miles an hour. He was 92-94, but he was behind in the count and every time he threw a fastball in a fastball count they were on time, which is what good hitters do.”
Kansas trailed 3-0 heading into the eighth inning but ripped four consecutive singles to cut the lead to 3-1. It likely would have been a more bountiful inning if not for sophomore center fielder Rudy Karre running into an out at third base.
“I just told ’em there’s no outs on the bases,” Price lamented. “When you’re down three, you can’t get thrown out at third base under any circumstances. You gotta get the tying run to the dish and hope somebody does something special for you.... That was a crucial mental mistake.
“We’re so young and we’re still trying to learn how to play the game. There’s just so many freshmen and sophomores playing. We’ve got five of ’em playing at one time and that’s why we’re so inconsistent.”
Despite playing five home games this week — Tuesday vs. Missouri State and a four-game series against Texas Southern over the weekend — Kansas will get a week off of Big 12 play, which Price said would be used to get a few underclassmen some more playing time and give a couple of others some much-needed time off.
“I’m looking forward to the weekend,” Price said. “We’ve been fighting uphill all season and now I finally get a break.”
Baylor 001 011 000 3 10 1
Kansas 000 000 010 1 6 2
W – Montana Parsons, 4-2. L – Jackson Goddard, 4-3. S – Troy Montemayor, 10.
2B: Baylor – T.J. Raguse (1), Richard Cunningham (2), Davis Wendzel (1); HR: Baylor – Kameron Esthay (1).
Highlights for Kansas: Jackson Goddard 7 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 4 K; Matt McLaughlin 2-for-5; James Cosentino 1-for-4, run; Brett Vosik 2-for-4; Devin Foyle 1-for-4, RBI
Baylor 000 000 1 1 6 0
Kansas 102 210 X 6 9 0
W – Blake Weiman, 2-1. L – Cody Bradford, 4-4.
2B: Kansas – Matt McLaughlin 2 (9), Devin Foyle (11); Baylor – Shea Langeliers (8), Davis Wendzel (5). HR: Kansas - James Cosentino (2), Devin Foyle (1).
Highlights for Kansas: Ryan Zeferjahn 4 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 K; Blake Weiman 2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 K; Stephen Villines 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 K; Matt McLaughlin 2-for-3, RBI, run; Devin Foyle 2-for-4, HR 2 RBI, run; James Cosentino 1-for-2, 2 RBI, 2 runs; Jaxx Groshans, 2-for-4, run.