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(Courtesy: KU Athletics)
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas played small ball to score three early runs and rode the pitching of sophomore Wes Benjamin and junior Jordan Piché to a 3-2 win over No. 19 Oklahoma State in the rubber game of the three-game Big 12 series Sunday at Hoglund Ballpark.
The Jayhawks move to 18-12 overall and 5-4 in the Big 12, while the Cowboys drop to 22-8 and 4-4 in league play. The series win over the 19th-ranked Cowboys marked KU’s first over a Top 25 opponent since April 1-3, 2011 when the Jayhawks took two-of-three from then-No. 21 Baylor.
After falling behind in the first inning, Kansas answered with two runs in the bottom of the first and one in the second inning to back the pitching of Benjamin and Piché. After sophomore Justin Protacio led off with a single and Kevin Kuntz reached on an error, the Jayhawks tied the score at one when an errant throw to first on Michael Suiter’s bunt single allowed Protacio to score. Then, after Alex DeLeon sacrificed runners to second and third, Dakota Smith gave KU the lead with an RBI ground out to second base.
KU added to its lead in the second inning when Connor McKayand Ka’iana Eldredge recorded back-to-back hits to start the inning and Tucker Tharp laid down a beautiful squeeze bunt, scoring McKay from third base.
That was all the run support the Jayhawk pitching staff would need. Benjamin evened his record at 3-3, going six innings and allowing two runs on four hits with five walks and three strikeouts. It marked the sophomore lefty’s first quality start since March 8 against Niagara.
Piché tossed three scoreless innings to close out the series and record his sixth save of the year, which moves him into second in the Big 12. The junior college transfer allowed three hits in his outing, but induced a short-to-second-to-first double play to end the seventh and collected eight ground-ball outs.
KU’s defense played a major role in the ballgame as well. The Jayhawks matched a season high, turning three double plays, while Suiter recorded his team-best sixth outfield assist of the year by throwing out Randy McCurry at the plate to end the fourth inning.
Six different Jayhawks collected base hits in the game, while three different players recorded sacrifices. Oklahoma State’s Tanner Krietemeier had the only extra base hit of the game by either team with an RBI double in the first inning.
At 5-4 in league play, KU is off to its best start since 2009, when the Jayhawks also won five of their first nine games in the Big 12. KU finished the 2009 season with a 15-12 record in conference play.
Kansas will switch to non-conference play with a two-game series at Iowa, beginning Tuesday night at 6 p.m.