When coach Ritch Price was asked about not opening up against the number one team in the nation — as was the case last year against Texas Christian University — Price said that he came to Kansas to play against top ranked teams.
While that may be true, Price can’t argue with opening up the season on a winning streak after Kansas came away from the Music City Classic in Nashville, Tenn. with victories over Middle Tennessee State (7-3), Belmont (2-0), and Bowling Green (3-1) — Kansas had a fourth game scheduled against Lipscomb, but was cancelled to poor weather conditions— where last year the team returned 1-2 from Fort Worth, Texas.
Against TCU, the batters struggled mightily, and the pitching was inconsistent, yet with time to warm up against a lesser opponent, Kansas was able to bring their bats to life behind three solid pitching performances from sophomores Thomas Taylor and Frank Duncan and freshman Wes Benjamin.
Price had hoped to get six innings out of each of his starters in their first appearance of the season, but they had grander ideas.
The trio pitched a combined 21 innings in which they gave up 12 hits and four earned runs to complement 11 strikeouts. Taylor had the best outing, coming two outs shy of a complete game while only throwing 89 pitches against Belmont.
“After about 35 pitches and three innings, I felt good,” Taylor said. “Everything was working, and I was throwing fastballs in the zone. I had a good idea that I could go deep into the game.”
Taylor left the mound after hitting two consecutive batters in the ninth inning, giving way for Jordan Jakubov to come in and record the save.
Supplying run support for the Jayhawks against Belmont was freshman third baseman Justin Protacio, who recorded two RBIs to put and keep the Jayhawks ahead of the Bruins.
It may have only been Protacio who provided a cushion for his pitcher in the Belmont game, but the Kansas batters were able to grind out hits throughout the weekend. The Jayhawks amassed 26 hits.
Leading the way for Kansas offensively was junior shortstop Kevin Kuntz. Kuntz went six for twelve with two RBIs and a run scored over the weekend, helping keep the infectious attribute flowing through the lineup.
“More than anything, I was just anxious to get out there,” Kuntz said. “I wasn’t too worried with how my swing was. I just wanted to go out there, compete, trust my abilities, and let it play out.”
Kuntz’s relaxed demeanor came from the advice of new hitting coach Ritchie Price, who wanted to see his players relaxed and confident at the plate in their first weekend series.
A cool, calm and collected attitude got the Jayhawks on base, but scoring the runners on base was a challenge.
Kansas stranded 30 base runners over the weekend. The statistic is troubling, but coach Price isn’t concerned with the wasted at-bats just yet.
“It’s early,” Price said. “We still have a long ways to go to keep getting better.”
Early or not, Kansas is hitting the ball and throwing strikes.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Kuntz said. “When our starters are going out there and keep their pitch count low while pounding the strike zone, it’s a huge plus.”
-Edited by C.J. Matson