SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Kansas starter Thomas Taylor scattered four hits over eight shutout innings, but Utah used a trio of infield singles to plate the game’s only run against National Stopper of the Year candidate Jordan Piché and walked-off with a 1-0, series-opening win at Spring Mobile Ballpark Saturday. The game marked KU’s 20th one-run contest of the year, the second-most in a single season in program history.
Taylor was economical, using just 86 pitches in his last regular season start for the Jayhawks (31-22) and allowed more than one base runner in just one inning. Likewise, Piché attacked the strike zone in the ninth but the Utes beat out a throw from Kansas second baseman Justin Protacio in shallow right field and a spinning throw from third baseman Jordan Dreiling on a chopper behind the mound. With one out, Trey Nielsen hit a sharp grounder to short that looked like a potential double play but the ball took an awkward hop and Utes base runner Braden Anderson partially shielded KU shortstop Kevin Kuntz and the ball skipped into shallow left field allowing Anderson to score.
“(Piché) made three good pitches to those three hitters and they get two infield singles – you can’t throw the ball any better to both guys – then obviously the bad-hop single to short was a tailor made double play ball,” Kansas head coach Ritch Price said. “It’s not often that you see a guy get beat on three balls that shouldn’t have even left the infield.”
Utah starter Mitch Watrous (4-3) was equally impressive on the mound, holding Kansas without a hit through four innings and surrendered just two base hits in a complete game shutout. The Jayhawks weren’t without chances, however, as Watrous issued three walks and hit a batter, but KU stranded five total in the game, including three in scoring position.
“We had plenty of opportunities,” Price said. “We had enough chances to score, enough chances to get a run on the board and take the lead early, but unfortunately for us we had several really bad at-bats with runners in scoring position from our best players. If we’re going to be a really good team (those guy) have to get it turned around for us to be a good, productive team offensively.”
Taylor gave up one extra-base hit in the game, a double by Konnor Armijo off the glove of a diving Michael Suiter at the warning track, and had men on second and third with one out in the fifth. Taylor snagged a comebacker two pitches later, looked the runner back at third and threw to DeLeon at first. Armijo broke for third on contact and was caught between the bases before Bret Helton broke for home and was cut down by DeLeon – a 1-3-2 double play. That was the last time the Utes got anybody in scoring position against the Jayhawks’ right-hander.
“It was one of his best outings of the year, he was really efficient,” Price said of Taylor. “To go out there and pitch eight innings with a little more than 80 pitches is remarkable and I couldn’t be more pleased with how he went about it. He threw first pitch strikes, he threw his breaking ball for strikes, let the defense play behind him – it was truly one of his best performances this season.”
Kansas catcher Ka’iana Eldredge threw out two Utes attempting to swipe second base, and also reached base twice with one of KU’s two hits and a two-out walk in the eighth. Dakota Smith singled back up the middle to lead off the fifth and break up the no-hit bid.
Anderson collected a game-high two hits in four at-bats, and five other Utes had one hit. The start of Saturday’s game was delayed 35 minutes due to rain showers in the area.
The three-game series continues Sunday at Spring Mobile Ballpark with KU’s Wes Benjamin (4-5, 4.10 ERA) starting against Utah’s Dalton Carroll (3-7, 4.41 ERA) at 7:30 p.m. (CT). The finale will be played at 1 p.m. Monday.