Courtesy: KU Athletics
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Down 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Kansas baseball team rallied to score three runs and walk-it-off, 5-4, against Northern Colorado Monday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.
The Jayhawks (1-1) sent eight batters to the plate in the final frame and took advantage of an early-inning miscue to put pressure on UNC reliever Cody Carroll (0-1), who walked in both the tying and winning runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
“We took advantage of the lead-off error and the hit-by-pitch on (senior Tommy) Mirabelli,” head coach Ritch Price said. “Obviously, (senior Steve) Goldstein’s drag bunt single to load the bases with no outs was huge.”
With bases loaded, senior second baseman Colby Wright hit into a fielder’s choice and junior centerfielder Joven Afenir drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, cutting the deficit to one, 4-3, with two outs. Sophomore shortstop Matt McLaughlin followed and legged out an infield single to short, loading the bases for junior catcher Michael Tinsley.
Tinsley drew the four-pitch walk from Carroll to tie the game up at four, before senior Ryan Pidhaichuk followed suit and drew the 3-1 walk and end the game with the winning run trotting in from third, 5-4.
“That was an ugly win,” Price said. “However, I think the big thing tonight was the tough start by (freshman righty Jackson) Goddard. He was really nervous and really struggled with his command. I think the only way you can come from a three-run deficit is if your bullpen keeps putting up zeroes.”
That is just what the KU bullpen did. The Jayhawks sent three pitchers to the mound in relief and they surrendered just three hits and one unearned run. Sophomore righties Tyler Davis and Ryan Ralston posted almost identical lines. The duo each allowed one hit and struck out two batters – the only difference is Davis tossed three innings while Ralston pitched two.
The only blemish in the bullpen was the one run junior closer Stephen Villines (1-0) gave up in the ninth after an error on Goldstein in right field set up a scoring opportunity for the Bears with a runner at third base.
“Our bullpen was fabulous again today,” Price said. “Davis comes in and puts up three zeroes and Ralston comes in and pitches his two best innings since he has been at the University of Kansas. I give full credit of today’s victory to them. That (bullpen) is a huge step forward for us than what it was a year ago.”
Not quite what one would expect from a home opener, but Kansas overcame four errors and a rocky start by Goddard, to win its 13th home opener in 14 years under Price. Helping erase those errors was Afenir, who shined at the plate with a 3-for-4 performance including two doubles and a RBI. McLaughlin belted two hits of his own, while Tinsley finished the day with two RBIs.
“He (Afenir) is one of the best players in our league,” Price said. “For us to be good – we all talk about core players. When those guys start to hit, we are going to be really good offensively. Like I said. I am staying with this club and I really like our ability to swing the bat.”
The Jayhawks are back in action, Tuesday, Feb. 23, for the second and final game of the series against Northern Colorado. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m., and can be seen on ESPN3. Fans can also tune into a live audio broadcast on the Jayhawk Radio Network via KUAthletics.com/Radio.