By Blake Schuster
Riding their best start since the 2007 season, the Kansas Jayhawks (5-2) flocked south to Mississippi for the weekend where they would ultimately be handed their first and second loss of the season against the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Yet the weekend wasn’t a total failure as two wins against Mississippi Valley State proved to be confidence and momentum builders.
“We showed we can compete with better teams,” senior third-baseman Zac Elgie said.
For a team picked to finish last in the Big 12, it was a strong step forward.
The Jayhawks opened up the series with a doubleheader against both the Bulldogs and Delta Devils Friday night.
A 9-2 victory over MVSU would get the night started, but the four-game winning streak for Kansas would end there as the Jayhawks lost a well-pitched game in the bottom of the ninth inning to MSU 1-0.
After newly named closer Tanner Poppe walked leadoff batter C.T. Bradford, Wes Rea belted a fastball left high in the zone off the left field wall, giving the Bulldogs the winning run.
Kansas would fall to Mississippi State 3-1 again the following day, but bounced back on Sunday against the Delta Devils in a 14-1 thrashing. The Jayhawks put 10 runs on the board in the first inning.
“A lot of it had to do with our patience,” Elgie said, who belted a three-run homer in the first inning. “We hit the pitches that we wanted to and put good swings on the baseball.”
Six Kansas batters would get a chance at the plate before the Delta Devils recorded their first out of the game, but what stood out to coach Ritch Price was his team’s ability to keep getting hits in two-out situations.
“That’s the name of the game,” Price said. “The two-out RBI is the single biggest stat in baseball, and that’s the type of thing that if we want to be a really good club, we’ve got to hit with runners in scoring position.”
And as the hits kept coming, more and more Kansas bench players got their chance to take the field.
Of the 35 players on the Kansas roster, 23 of them saw action against Mississippi Valley State as the starters gave way for the lesser experienced to players.
“Those guys work hard every day,” Price said. “They know the process is going to take them two or three years before they get their opportunity to play on a regular basis, but I was really pleased with the performance of our young guys.”
The task for Kansas now is to continue to build off its strong hitting and pitching, and maintain the momentum they’ve built along the way, and with three games in San Antonio next weekend against Texas-San Antonio, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Gonzaga, they’ll have an opportunity to do just that.
“We were better Saturday than we were Friday night, and we were better this week than we were last week,” Price said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do.”
-Edited by C.J. Matson