LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Three hours and 22 minutes of weather delays didn’t faze the Jayhawks as the Kansas baseball team beat Kentucky at its own game, 10-6, using its big-time offense to silence the Wildcats Friday evening at Jim Patterson Stadium in game one of the NCAA Louisville Regional.
Kansas (35-24) faced a 20 minute lightning delay prior to first pitch, an hour suspension of play with two outs in the first inning and then a two hour and two minute postponement in the bottom of the fifth to tack on an extra three hours and 22 minutes against Kentucky (35-24) in an already three hour and 14 minute contest.
“That was one of the most unusual games I’ve ever been involved in,” Kansas head coach Ritch Price said. “I don’t know if I’ve seen two delays as long as those two were, and I was really proud of the toughness our team showed and the competitiveness they showed to be able to fight through those delays and execute offensively.”
Offensive execution was the name of the game. Kansas pounded out 13 hits against a team that relies more on its offense than pitching to win games, but ended up being beat at their own game. Senior centerfielder Tucker Tharp boasted a 3-for-5 performance at the dish with three RBIs and a run scored, while junior shortstop Justin Protacio finished the day with two walks, an RBI and three runs scored.
“You look at that line score; he (Tharp) had three hits and three RBIs today,” Price said. “He was a big-time player. You can make the statement at the end of the game, ‘he was the best player on the field today.’”
Tharp may have been the best player on the field, but the KU squad was matched up against a team who boasts the National Player of the Year in that of pitcher/designated hitter A.J. Reed, who was no match for the Kansas pitching staff Friday night.
The Jayhawk pitchers held Reed hitless (0-for-2) in both RBI situations, however, they managed to walk the southpaw two times. Kansas senior righty Jordan Piche’ sat Reed down swinging with a runner on in the third, before junior right-hander Drew Morovick (10-4) induced the fly-ball out in the seventh with a runner on to tame the Wildcat.
“I wasn’t going to throw anything he had a chance of elevating,” Morovick said. “I trusted Gravey (Kansas pitching coach Ryan Graves) and his pitch calling. I knew I could just go out there and attack the guy.”
Attack is just what Morovick did when he entered the game in the bottom of the fifth inning after a two-hour rain delay halted KU starter Piche’. The hurler tossed three and one-third innings of relief for the win, allowing just two walks and a hit in the 50-pitch effort.
“Morovick came out of the bullpen and put up the three zeroes to give us a chance to get the lead back,” Price said. “It’s a great win for the University of Kansas.”
The win started right from the beginning when Kansas put up back-to-back three-spots in the first and second innings, with a little help from two Kentucky errors.
The Wildcats got the momentum back with a three-spot of their own, before adding a run in the third and two runs in the fourth. However, the Jayhawks stole back the thunder in the sixth inning after a huge double play that ended with an absolute hose from junior left fielder Michael Suiter to senior catcher Ka’iana Eldredge to get the runner out at the dish.
“I wasn’t expecting him to go, I was expecting a bluff,” Morovick said. “When he took off I started heading back to the mound and I saw he wasn’t breaking so I stood there and I had a perfect view of it. It was a beautiful throw by Suiter and a great block of the plate by Ka’iana. That sprung us in the game and that was a huge momentum swing right there.”
That double play lit a fire under Kansas and the squad rallied to score two runs in the seventh and two more runs in the eighth inning to put the game out of reach. Price called to his closer, freshman Stephen Villines, to come in and close out the last five outs for the Jayhawks, which he did, giving up one hit while recording a strikeout.
KU is back in action Saturday, May 31, and will play the winner of No. 1 Louisville and No. 4 Kent State at 4 p.m. Fans can watch the action live on ESPN3 or tune in and listen to Jayhawk Digital Passport through KUAthletics.com/Showcase for a free audio stream.