LAWRENCE, Kan. – For the sixth-straight game, the Kansas baseball team wound up on the right side of the scoreboard, defeating No. 19 Texas Tech, 6-4, Saturday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.
Quite the opposite of the offensive showing from last night, the Jayhawks (29-20, 11-9 Big 12) were out-hit for the second-straight game against TTU (36-15, 11-9 Big 12) but grinded through nine innings with the help of two clutch two-run base knocks by junior right fielder Dakota Smith and junior first baseman Blair Beck to lead Kansas to the win.
“We didn’t play very well today,” head coach Ritch Price said. “Obviously we were very sloppy defensively, but we also had two great at bats. Beck’s two-run double, and Dakota Smith fouls a ball off that almost hits him in the hands and then gets a two-out base hit to knock in two more runs. I was proud of the way we grinded.”
Kansas managed just nine hits, six off Texas Tech starter Chris Sadberry (4-2), who also gave up a three-spot in the second inning, the fourth for KU in the series.
“We tried to execute our short-game assignments, we clutched up with runners in scoring position and we competed,” Price said. “Compete and grind – those are the two things I preach every day. You be professional, you grind, and you compete every time you wear that Kansas uniform.”
Junior shortstop Justin Protacio (2-for-5), junior designated hitter Connor McKay (2-for-4) and senior catcher Ka’iana Eldredge (2-for-4) boasted multiple-hit performances for the Jayhawks, while Smith and Beck were the only players with two or more RBIs on the day.
KU broke open the scoring in the second inning with three runs. McKay singled to right field to lead off the frame and senior centerfielder Tucker Tharp followed with the walk. Then with no outs, Beck clutched up and drove a double down the left field line to score the duo and give Kansas its first lead, 2-0. Eldredge followed with a one-out single to center to score Beck from second and give the Jayhawks the three-run advantage, 3-0.
Texas Tech countered right back in the third with two runs of its own. A lead off single, walk and a sacrifice bunt moved runners into scoring position for second baseman Bryant Burleson, who singled to right field to cut KU’s lead to 3-1. Left fielder Tyler Neslony followed with the RBI-ground out to cut deeper into the lead, 3-2.
Kansas tacked on two more in the fourth inning, to extend its lead back to three runs, 5-2. Protacio singled to center with two outs before sophomore second baseman Colby Wright drew the walk. Junior left fielder Michael Suiter followed with a hit by pitch, one of three on the day for him, to load the bases for Smith.
Smith took the fastball and drove it through the left side, scoring Protacio and Wright for the two-run single and help the Jayhawks keep what momentum they had going with them into the fifth inning.
“As hot as we are, I just want to keep playing and keep winning,” Smith said. “Everyone’s hitting the ball, everyone’s throwing well and everyone’s fielding well. As long as we keep doing that, I think we are going to get hotter and hotter.”
TTU picked up a run in the fifth and a run in the sixth, before KU added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth to seal the fate for the Red Raiders, 6-4.
Junior righty Robert Kahana started on the bump for KU, but lasted just four and one-third innings, giving up three runs off nine hits and a walk. Junior reliever Drew Morovick (7-2) tossed three and two-thirds innings, giving up four hits and a run.
Another bright spot on the day for KU, despite the win, was seeing freshman closer Stephen Villines get back on track with a one-two-three ninth inning to pick up his sixth save of the season. The side armer gave up three runs in each of his last three save opportunities, but the California swag showed today as he faced the minimum in the ninth with a 12-pitch effort.
The six-game winning streak KU is riding is the longest of the season, since the Jayhawks won nine-straight to start the 2014 campaign. The five-straight Big 12 wins marks the longest streak for Kansas since 2009 when the squad won six-straight from April 19 – May 2.
The Jayhawks will be back on the field Sunday, May 3, repping the red alternate uniforms for the second-consecutive series finale, as KU goes for the sweep of the Red Raiders. Senior right-handed hurler Frank Duncan will get the nod in Sunday’s contest, which can be watched live on the Jayhawk Television Network within the state of Kansas and on ESPN3 outside the state lines. First pitch is slated for 1 p.m.
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