Kansas Upsets No. 10 Texas on the Road, 3-2
AUSTIN, Texas – In the first Big 12 Conference game of the 2014 season, the Kansas baseball team upset No. 10 Texas, 3-2, Friday night at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
The Jayhawks (13-4) tallied 10 hits, reaching double-digit hits for the 10th time this season, while holding the Longhorns (14-5) to just six hits on the night. Junior left-handed hurler Wes Benjamin (3-0) controlled the pace of the game with his pitching, mixing in his off-speed with his fastball to keep the Texas hitters off balance.
“He was really special,” head coach Ritch Price said. “One of the things I was really pleased with was the use of his changeup. It was just outstanding to both the right-handed guys and the left handed guys. He was able to get ahead and they were really aggressive.”
Benjamin was just one-third of an inning away from pitching the fourth complete game of his career, but two late UT hits forced him out of the game in the ninth. In a 118-pitch effort, Benjamin gave up six hits, two runs, two walks and struck out four in the victory.
“You have to go out there and do a good job,” Benjamin said. “You know when you are going up against Texas it is going to be a close ballgame regardless, because of the way they play the game. We played a lot of small ball at the beginning and I looked to keep us close the whole time and it worked out.”
KU had to play small ball early, as the Jayhawks drew the card of UT’s right-handed ace Parker French, one of the top pitchers in the country, who entered the game with a record of 2-1 and a 1.07 ERA. KU had no fear, knocking French out of the game after five and one-third innings pitched. The junior surrendered three earned runs, the first time this season he has given up more than one earned run in a game. Kansas also managed seven hits and drew three walks off the starter.
The man responsible for forty percent of KU’s hits on the night was junior right fielder Connor McKay, who boasted a 4-for-5 effort at the plate with four singles and an RBI, increasing his Big 12-leading total to 27.
Two of KU’s three runs came in the first inning, when junior shortstop Justin Protacio smoked a single through the left side on the first pitch of the game. Sophomore second baseman Tommy Mirabelli sacrificed Protacio to second before junior left fielder Michael Suiter worked a walk. McKay followed with his first single of the night to load the bases, before junior designated hitter Dakota Smith took one square in the back to score Protacio from third. Senior centerfielder Tucker Tharp then mashed one to deep centerfield for a sacrifice fly, putting Kansas up, 2-0, after the first inning.
Texas answered back in the fourth inning after a lead-off walk and sacrifice bunt moved a Longhorn into scoring position for sophomore shortstop C.J. Hinojosa, who doubled off the wall in left field to cut Kansas’ lead in half, 2-1.
The Jayhawks battled right back in the top of the fifth. After Mirabelli drew a one-out walk, Suiter singled through the left side, extending his hitting streak to nine games. It was then the hot bat of McKay who laced one up the middle to drive in Mirabelli and give KU the two-run advantage.
KU seemed to have it on lock-down through the next three frames, before a scare in the bottom of the ninth called for senior right-handed closer Jordan Piche’ to make an appearance to record the final out.
Trying to give Benjamin a chance at the complete game, Price let the hurler back out to the bump to start the ninth. Two quick fly-ball outs later, the Jayhawks were pretty comfortable with their starter still out there. However, UT designated hitter Jacob Felts singled through the left side, then advanced to second on a defensive indifference, before taking third on a wild pitch. Texas first baseman Tres Barrera then singled to center to drive in the run and cut the KU lead to one, 3-2.
Price then made the move to the pen and brought in Piche’ for the last out. Five pitches later, Piche’ recorded the game-winning strikeout, sealing the upset win for the Jayhawks.
“Our defense was as good as our offense was and our short-game execution was fabulous,” Price said. “We had three sacrifice bunts to move guys into scoring position and we actually beat Texas at its own game, which is get guys on, get them over and get them in.”
Six different Jayhawks tallied at least one hit on the night, with Protacio (2-for-5) and McKay (4-for-5) recording multiple-hit efforts.
“Now the big thing I told our club is that we won a great battle on Friday night against one of the best teams in the country,” Price said. “Now we have to go out and win a series.”
The two squads are back on the field, Saturday, March 15, for game two of this three game series. First pitch is slated for 1 p.m.