WACO, Texas – Senior centerfielder Tucker Tharp drove in a career-high five runs while senior right-handed hurler Frank Duncan picked up his fifth win of the year on the mound, pacing the Kansas baseball team to an 8-5 win and series sweep over the Baylor Bears Sunday afternoon at Baylor Ballpark.
With KU leading 5-3 in the ninth inning, Tharp blasted a two-out, three-run double off the wall in left field, one of three hits for him on the day, contributing to a four-run inning for the Jayhawks (26-20, 9-9 Big 12) and putting the game out of reach for Baylor (19-25, 5-12 Big 12). Tharp ended the game 3-for-4 with those five RBIs and a walk.
“After last weekend, everyone was pretty down,” Tharp said. “It’s tough to come back after getting swept, especially when you’re right in the middle of the pack in the Big 12. It was good to bounce back and salvage that by getting three wins this weekend.”
Tharp’s five RBIs paced the Jayhawks to their first sweep of Baylor on the road in the history of the two programs and the sixth-straight win for Kansas over the Bears dating back to the series sweep last season in Lawrence.
“It was great to watch Tharp play today,” head coach Ritch Price said. “He’s a team captain and now a three-year starter for us and that might be one of the finest games he’s played at the University of Kansas. Let’s be real, we have a two-run lead and he hits the two-out, three-run double in the ninth to close the door. We needed those [runs] to hang on to win today.”
Sunday’s win improved KU’s record to 9-3 against Texas schools this season and ended their Big 12 road slate at 7-5. In addition, it gave Price his 600th victory at the Division I level, just one day after eclipsing the 1,000-win mark across all levels of coaching.
“Today is all about the Kansas Jayhawks,” Price said. When you go on the road to the Texas schools and the Oklahoma schools and find a way to be over .500—it’s something you take a lot of pride in. It’s really difficult to win on the road in this great conference and to come away this weekend with the sweep—it puts us back in the NCAA tournament hunt. I can’t speak highly enough about the toughness and competitiveness from the guys in our dugout. I’m really proud to be associated with them.”
Duncan (5-2) battled through six and two-thirds innings for the Jayhawks, giving up two runs off a season-high 13 hits. Freshman side-armer Stephen Villines came on in the seventh inning with a 3-2 Kansas lead, and closed out the remainder of the game for his fifth save of the season.
Kansas got on the board early in the first inning after junior shortstop Justin Protacio led off the game with a walk and took second on a sacrifice bunt by sophomore second baseman Colby Wright. Junior left fielder Michael Suiter singled to right field to put runners at the corners for junior right fielder Dakota Smith. With one out, Smith drove one deep to centerfield for the sacrifice fly and put the first run up on the board in favor of KU, 1-0.
The Jayhawks tacked on another run in the fourth inning. Smith led off the frame with a single in the hole at short, before junior designated hitter Connor McKay smoked a single to center field to put runners at the corners for Tharp.
Tharp roped the first pitch he saw through the left side for the first of his five RBIs on the day and gave KU the two-run advantage, 2-0.
Baylor answered in the fourth with a run of its own before the two squads traded runs to enter the ninth with a 4-3 KU lead. Senior catcher Ka’iana Eldredge led off the inning with a single to left field. Wright followed a Protacio fly out with a bunt single up the third base line. Suiter immediately reached on a bunt single of his own to load the bases for Smith, who smoked a single to centerfield to increase Kansas’ lead, 5-3.
It was then Tharp’s double that broke the game open in the ninth and sealed the deal for Kansas, 8-5.
“For him to get three knocks and five RBIs, he was certainly the player of the game,” Price said. “Tomorrow night he gets the honor of being the featured speaker at the senior awards banquet for all athletes. We couldn’t have a better person represent our program than Tucker Tharp.”
Kansas pounded out 14 hits in the win, including multiple hit efforts from Wright (2-for-4), Suiter (2-for-4), Smith (3-for-4) and Tharp (3-for-4). In addition to Tharp’s five RBIs, Smith drove in two of his own.
On this particular day, it was the seniors who stole the show.
“It’s really been the seniors being the catalysts all year long,” Duncan said. “This is our last year. We want to make Lawrence proud, we want to make KU proud, and we want to make our team proud.”
The Jayhawks are back on the field Tuesday, April 29, as they take on in-state rival Wichita State for a midweek matchup. First pitch at Tyler Field at Eck Stadium in Wichita is set for 6:30 p.m.