Courtesy: KU Athletics
LAWRENCE, Kan. – With two on and two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning of a tie ballgame, sophomore centerfield Rudy Karre worked a 2-2 count and took a deep breath. Kansas rallied twice before in the game, so this was familiar territory, and fittingly Karre did it again with the go-ahead RBI-double to all but gift-wrap the Friday night victory over Kansas State, 5-4, in the annual Dillons Sunflower Showdown at Hoglund Ballpark.
“After they intentionally walked (junior first baseman) Owen Taylor, I was pumped,” Karre said. “I just wanted a good at bat and put the ball in play. I got a really good pitch and almost got robbed of a double.”
That go-ahead RBI-double didn’t come easy as K-State centerfielder Cameron Thompson had a good line on it, but the ball tipped off his glove on the dive attempt and sophomore pinch runner Blake Shinkle touched home. That final run is all that the Jayhawks (28-22, 10-9 Big 12) needed to seal up its seventh-straight victory, as senior closer Stephen Villines closed out the game for his 13th save of the season with a perfect one-two-three ninth that included two strikeouts.
That performance by Villines against the Wildcats (26-23, 5-14 Big 12) couldn’t overshadow the job that junior lefty Blake Weiman (4-1) did after entering the game in the sixth inning for a struggling Jackson Goddard. Weiman faced eight batters, struck out six and allowed one walk. He erased that lone base runner with a pickoff and it was a combined three and 1/3 inning of scoreless baseball for head coach Ritch Price’s bullpen.
“That is definitely the strength of our team,” Price said. “Goddard struggled with his command, but found a way to eat up some innings for us and get out of jams. We could have been blown out early, but Goddard made some pitches when they counted. Then Weiman was just special and Villines did exactly what he needed to do.”
Goddard grinded out five and 2/3 innings on the bump, gave up four runs off six hits and four walks, and struck out six batters. He threw 112 pitches and only 63 strikes, but kept Kansas in the game enough to turn it over to the bullpen with the score tied.
The back and forth heavyweight battle started in the second inning when K-State catcher Josh Rolette tagged Goddard for a solo home run. Karre answered the call in the home half of the frame with a sacrifice fly, then freshman second baseman James Cosentino ripped a RBI-single for KU’s first lead of the day, 2-1.
Kansas State took the lead back in the fourth after the Wildcats loaded the bases. A fielder’s choice and a two-out RBI-single by Will Brennan, and Kansas found itself back in a hole, 3-2.
That didn’t last long, however, as Karre drilled a solo shot to left field in the bottom of the fourth for his third dinger of the year and knot the score back up, 3-3.
“Karre is playing about as good as we could want right now,” Price said. “He missed the whole second half of the season last year, and we knew he was capable of playing at a high level. He is one of the best guys in our conference.”
Kansas had to play from behind once more after K-State regained the lead in the sixth. This time it was freshman third baseman Benjamin Sems answering with a leadoff double in the bottom half of the frame. Taylor followed with a RBI-single and it was all knotted up, 4-4.
That left the game in the capable hands of the Jayhawk bullpen and Karre, and they delivered to pick up the series opening victory, 5-4.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Thirteen and counting: Senior closer Stephen Villines tied his season-high 13 saves set in 2015 after he pitched a perfect one-two-three ninth that included two strikeouts. The sidearm slinger has now earned 39 career saves and is just two away from tying the all-time Big 12 mark set by Texas’ Huston Street from 2002-04.
Bases loaded: Sophomore righty Jackson Goddard gave up back-to-back singles to lead off the third inning. A sacrifice bunt, strikeout and a walk followed, and the bases were loaded for K-State’s RBI and home run leader, first baseman Jake Scudder. Goddard dug deep and forced the groundout to first base to get out of the jam and keep it a 2-1 game in favor of Kansas.
Only blemish: Junior lefty Blake Weiman entered the game in the sixth inning with two outs and a runner on second. On three-straight pitches, Weiman struck out K-State’s Will Brennan, but freshman catcher Jaxx Groshans couldn’t handle the ball in the dirt. On the play, Groshans overthrew first base trying to record the out and the Wildcats’ runner at second came all the way around to score and put them on top, 4-3.
Bullpen attack: Senior closer Stephen Villines and junior lefty Blake Weiman combined to close out the final three and 1/3 innings. The duo managed to shut out the Wildcats in those final frames and chalked up eight strikeouts having faced only 11 batters – the Wildcats struck out 14 times on the night.
The Dillons Sunflower Showdown continues Saturday at Hoglund Ballpark with a 2 p.m. first pitch.