Goddard, Jayhawks clinch series finale against Houston Baptist, 4-2

Sophomore starter Jackson Goddard unleashed a roar and pounded his chest as he walked back to the dugout. His catcher, freshman Jaxx Groshans, was the first to greet Goddard with an approving high-five. The rest of the Kansas baseball team bombarded him with a flurry of fist bumps and other congratulatory responses.

The celebration was certainly warranted as Goddard had just delivered his final pitch of the afternoon. It served as the capper to, arguably, his best start of his Jayhawk career, in which he spun a career-high seven scoreless frames with a career-best six strikeouts.

Houston Baptist made a late surge against the bullpen, but Kansas hung on to clinch the series finale, 4-2, at Hoglund Ballpark on Sunday.

The Jayhawks (7-8) have won consecutive three-game weekend sets and five of their last seven outings.

“When we recruited him, we thought he’d be an impact guy and have a chance to be one of the best pitchers in our conference,” KU coach Ritch Price said. “That’s, by far, the best outing he has had since he’s been at KU.”

Exactly one year after earning his first career victory, when he held St. Louis to three runs over 6 1/3 frames, Goddard got the nod for the first time in 2017. Price began the year planning to use Goddard in briefer stints out of the bullpen even though Goddard made 14 starts as a freshman.

The plan was to maximize the hard-throwing righty’s velocity, particularly the fastball, which often sits around 93 mph. However, early season struggles by weekend starter Jeider Rincon, coupled with Goddard’s success as a reliever, earned Goddard a start in the rubber match and shifted the rotation around.

“I put him in the bullpen to try to make him earn his way to get back into the starting rotation, hoping to get a performance like that,” Price said. “He has electric stuff. As soon as he can grow up and command the ball in the strike zone, he’s going to be a special guy.”

Goddard was near flawless for most of the cold, breezy afternoon. He attacked the inside of the plate and commanded the strike zone from the very beginning. He needed just 11 pitches to work around a defensive error in the first frame.

After another error in the second, the defense recovered and ultimately helped Goddard stay in a rhythm. Of the 26 batters he faced, Goddard induced 11 groundouts and three flyouts. He did not walk a batter, which was especially impressive given that he walked 6.63 batters per nine innings during his rookie campaign.

“The biggest key for me is focusing on that first pitch of every batter,” Goddard said. “It’s a big key for me, not walking guys. Last year, a lot of those crooked numbers I gave up had one or two walks in there.”

The Huskies’ (8-6) best chance to do something against Goddard came in his final frame. Goddard opened the seventh with a punch-out before he proceeded to surrender a single and hit the ensuing batter.

Rather than get rattled, Goddard buckled down and induced another fly ball out. He then hurled a full-count fastball by Houston Baptist’s Spencer Halloran to get out of the frame unscathed. It marked just the fifth time he tossed five-or-more innings in his 25 career outings, 15 of which were starts.

“It was a tough adjustment period getting used to the bullpen, because this is the first year I have ever done that,” Goddard said. “I like being a starter. It’s nice being back in the starting role and just getting back into that routine.”

Meanwhile, the offense did just enough to give Goddard room to work with.

Kansas posted back-to-back two-run spots in the second and third inning on a total of four hits. In the second, second baseman James Cosentino ripped an RBI double into left and Owen Taylor drove in another run on a sacrifice fly. Both runs in the third came on a misplay by Huskies’ right fielder Brandon Brintz.

Closer Stephen Villines gave up a pair of runs, but avoided further damage across two full innings.

Kansas will travel to Oral Roberts at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

HB 000 000 020 — 2 9 1

KU 022 000 00X — 4 5 2

W — Jackson Goddard 2-0. L — Zane Carter 3-1. S — None.

2B — Brett Vosik, James Cosentino, KU; Z. Otten, HB.

KU highlights — Jackson Goddard 7 IP 0R 4H 6K 0BB; James Cosentino 1-for-3 RBI; Owen Taylor 1-for-2 RBI.