By Blake Schuster
As each Jayhawk raised their arms in victory the weight of an eight-game losing streak fell off their backs. The 16-inning loss, the double-digit spankings and the shutouts were officially behind the Kansas clubhouse — all because of a comeback.
In the top of the first inning of the Jayhawks 5-3 win over the #2 Aggies, Thomas Taylor walked consecutive batters with two outs before giving up a single through the middle that scored Tyler Naquin from second base. But instead of unraveling, as the Jayhawks have done of late when mistakes lead to runs, Taylor regrouped to strikeout Brandon Wood. The momentum from the bounce back stuck with Kansas at the plate. Kevin Kuntz singled to right field followed by a James Stanfield single to left. After an Alex DeLeon walk to load the bases, Zac Elgie placed a line drive to left field, scoring Kuntz in the process. Keeping the rally going, Jordan Dreiling blasted another shot to right field to tack on another run as Stanfield crossed the plate. At the end of the first the Jayhawks had a 2-1 lead, a lot of momentum and a long way to go.
“Usually when we have those runs happen in the first it’s like something we messed up here or there,” said Stanfield, who went 3-5 at the plate. “Today they just got a hit with two outs and scored a guy so we didn’t have that feeling that things were going wrong.”
The good vibes carried over to the mound. Over the next six innings Taylor only gave up three more hits, and none of them came back to haunt Kansas. The junior found his rhythm, issuing only five walks while striking out four in seven innings of work.
“I struggled a little bit with my command at the beginning of the game,” Taylor said. “From there on out I just tried to throw strikes and pitch for contact with the wind blowing in today.”
Taylor wasn’t the only one looking for contact as his squad’s bats have gone quiet in the last few games. The difference was Taylor getting outs, and the Jayhawks were collecting hits. Kansas outhit the Aggies 10-8 — the first time the Jayhawks outhit an opponent since an April 1st 9-3 victory over Texas Tech in Lawrence. The Jayhawks would go on to lose their next eight games after defeating the Red Raiders — a streak that was snapped with Sunday’s triumph over the Aggies.
The key to getting on base today was the same theme that Kansas had been reffering to all season: Fastball-efficiency. Sunday, it paid off.
“We did a good job of being on time with the fastball,” coach Ritch Price said. “You have to be fastball efficient to be a good hitter. We did a nice job of laying off the off-speed stuff.”
Kansas would put up two more runs in the in the sixth inning while chasing three A&M pitchers from the game. A Jake Marasco RBI double in the seventh would put the Jayhawks up 5-1 and almost became the game-winner.
Tanner Poppe, who came on to relieve Taylor in the eighth inning, struggled mightily in the ninth. The closer walked three batters, gave up two runs, and was trapped with two men on base and two outs. Poppe, however, calmed down enough to get Troy Stein to strikeout looking to end the game.
Kansas will have a chance to build on the win and begin a new streak Tuesday night at Hoglund Ballpark against Baker University at 6:00 p.m., and with a victory to get them through the off day the Jayhawks will be looking to use that as motivation for another.
“Just to get out of that funk we were in is huge,” Stanfield said. “We have so much momentum in our dugout right now, when we get momentum as a team we stay with it pretty well.”