Just over a month ago, the Kansas baseball team was five games under .500, and a lack of plate discipline was one of the biggest culprits. Fast-forward to Sunday, and the Jayhawks are now five games over .500 (27-22) and have turned that weakness into a strength.
Kansas drew 11 walks and completed its first series sweep in a series three games or longer in a 10-0 mercy rule win in seven innings over Texas Southern at Hoglund Ballpark.
“No matter who you’re playing you have to stay in the strike zone to be a good hitter,” KU coach Ritch Price said. “Our guys have done a much better job as the season has gone on of not chasing the breaking ball and the changeup out of the zone.”
The Jayhawks got off to a quick start thanks to freshman Jaxx Groshans’ two-RBI single with the bases loaded in the first inning to take a 2-0 lead, and they added one more run in the inning.
“He had thrown a lot of strikes, but he wasn’t throwing overly hard, 80-84 miles per hour,” Groshans said. “That first-pitch fastball, I wasn’t going to take it.”
The first inning was one of four innings the Jayhawks were able to load the bases, which Groshans said shows everybody is seeing the ball well from the plate. In the second inning, freshman James Cosentino drove in a run with a shot off the center field wall, and Groshans picked up his third RBI of the day with a sacrifice fly.
The Jayhawks added four more runs in the fifth, and freshman Kaimana Souza-Paaluh drew a walk with the bases loaded in the sixth inning to plate the 10th run.
Now Kansas will resume Big 12 play in what may be its most important series of the season when it plays host to Kansas State this weekend. The Jayhawks are currently riding a six-game winning streak, and Price believes his young team is “playing as well as we can play,” heading into the crucial series.
But this weekend will be a different animal, as it will be the first taste of the Sunflower Showdown for a slew of key Kansas players. The Jayhawks have three freshmen who are everyday starters, a freshman starting pitcher, and three more who have appeared in more than 10 games.
Groshans, who has started in all 44 games he’s played, said the upperclassmen and coaches have spoken to him and his other young teammates about the rivalry, but he expects that to be a point of emphasis in practice this week. Even though Groshans understands the series is about in-state bragging rights, Price said he and the other freshmen have no idea what the rivalry is like.
“You can throw the records out when you play them (Kansas State),” Price said. They’re going to come in here eighth or ninth place in league when they get here, and yet it’ll be like they’re playing for first place. Our guys have to be ready.”
But thanks to the Jayhawks’ 14-5 record in the last month, the series with will be about much more than bragging rights. Price believes if his starting pitching shows up, it could be about taking another step toward the NCAA Tournament.
“We have to win this series,” Price said. “If we win this series, we take one more step toward accomplishing our goal and then that sets up a huge weekend at Texas Tech, which could put our RPI over the top and into the NCAA Tournament.”
Texas Southern 000 000 0 — 0 4 0
Kansas 320 041 x — 10 9 0
W — Sean Rackoski (5-4). L — Michael Villanueva (7-3).
2B — Kamren Dukes, TSU; James Cosentino, Matt McLaughlin, KU. 3B — Owen Taylor.
KU highlights — Sean Rackoski 5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 3 K; James Cosentino 3-for-3, 3 runs, 2 RBI, BB; Jaxx Groshans 2-for-2, 3 RBI, 1 BB; Matt McLaughlin 1-for-3, 1 RBI, 1 BB.