AUSTIN, Texas – Two Longhorns runs in the first inning was all it took, as the Kansas baseball team fell to No. 10 Texas, 2-1, at UFCU Disch-Falk Field Saturday afternoon.
Dubbed as a pitcher’s duel form the get-go, junior right-handed hurler Robert Kahana (1-3) had a tall task ahead of him, getting the start against UT’s left-handed ace, Dillon Peters (2-1). Kahana tossed his first complete game of the season, giving up five hits and two runs, both unearned, while recording four strikeouts in eight innings. Peters tossed seven and one-third innings, allowing one run off five hits and a walk, while striking out three.
“I can’t tell you how proud I was after (the first inning),” head coach Ritch Price said. “(Kahana) struggled his last outing at Stanford and needed a quality start. For him to go back out there and put seven zeroes up and give us a chance to compete and grind against one of the best guys in America . . . Despite the fact that we lost, it was a tremendous baseball game.”
The Longhorns (15-5) jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning, after left fielder Ben Johnson singled on the first pitch of the game and advanced to second on a one-out single by centerfielder Mark Payton, the Big 12 leader in hits and batting average. However, Kahana settled down to strike out shortstop C.J. Hinojosa to give the Jayhawks two outs and a chance for a force at any bag to get out of the inning.
Texas catcher Tres Barrera then smoked one deep in the hole for junior shortstop Justin Protacio. Protacio made a great backhanded snag on the run, but one-hopped the throw to first, which was too hot for KU first baseman Blair Beck to handle and the Longhorns tacked on the first run of the game.
With the inning extended, UT right fielder Collin Shaw singled through the right side to drive in another run and put the Longhorns on top, 2-0. Senior catcher Ka’iana Eldredge hosed Shaw at second on the steal attempt to get the Jayhawks out of the first frame; however, the damage was done.
“They came out attacking his fastball from the first pitch he threw today and the guy lined it into centerfield,” Price said. “I think they were on time three times the first inning and unfortunately we make the one crucial throwing error at shortstop.”
KU showed life in the third inning with a one-out double by Beck to centerfield. Protacio then smoked one back to Peters, who caught Beck off the bag at second. Beck had the wherewithal to get himself in a rundown and allow Protacio to advance to second, despite getting tagged out at third.
With Protacio at second, it gave sophomore second baseman Colby Wright an RBI opportunity, as he laced one up the middle for the RBI single, cutting the UT lead in half, 2-1.
“Obviously Tommy Mirabelli is off to a slow start, so we are using Colby against the left-handed pitchers to protect him a little bit and give Colby an opportunity to contribute,” Price said. “He gets the sac bunt down in the first inning on a perfectly placed bunt and then comes right back and gets himself two knocks. He had himself an outstanding game.”
The next six innings proved to hold true to the pitcher’s duel mantra, as zeroes filled up the scoreboard.
Beck was the only other KU player with a multi-hit game, tallying two hits in three at bats. Junior designated hitter Dakota Smith and senior centerfielder Tucker Tharp each had one hit a piece to round out the six hits on the day for Kansas.
“I’ll tell you what,” Price said. “We have pitched as good as we could have hoped for on back-to-back nights by our first two guys. They are a really good fastball hitting team and are really aggressive. Wes (Benjamin) was effective yesterday when he was able to use his changeup for a strike and once Robert got through the first inning, he started to do a better job of mixing his pitches and you saw the result, he was highly effective. Frank (Duncan) is going to have to use his curve ball, his slider and changeup, and locate his fastball down in the zone. If he is at his best, I like our chances to win the series tomorrow.”
The two teams play the rubber match Sunday, March 16, with the winner taking the series 2-1. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m., as senior right hander Frank Duncan (2-1, 2.01 ERA) takes the mound for Kansas against UT’s senior righty Nathan Thornhill (3-0, 1.21 ERA).