Manhattan The difference between winning or losing a baseball game can be this small: When the other team makes one tiny mistake, do you feast on it or help your opponent up?
Kansas University was hardly in a helpful mood Saturday, even if in-state rival Kansas State was. The Jayhawks pounced on two early Wildcat errors and won, 5-2, despite only one earned run.
It was that kind of day for Kansas State - and another example of how the new-look, don't-take-us-lightly Jayhawks operate. Usually clawing for eighth place and a berth in the Big 12 Tournament at this stage of the season, KU is now 9-8 in Big 12 play and in the top third of the league. The Jayhawks will go for the sweep of the Wildcats at 2 p.m. today, with ace Kodiak Quick taking the hill.
A winning Big 12 record isn't cake - only four teams now are above .500 - and those squads all take advantage of fortunate situations. Kansas did so Saturday, scoring two in the first and two in the third - all after errors prolonged the innings.
"I think that was the difference in the game," KU coach Ritch Price said. "Certainly, their defense let them down a little bit, and we were able to get some two-out knocks."
Successful teams do that. And Kansas did it with a festive crowd oozing purple breathing down their neck - 4,026 of them, actually, easily a Tointon Stadium record.
Most were filling time until the K-State spring football game next door later in the day. And KU's clutch hitting - led by Erik Morrison's three hits and three RBIs - did plenty to suck the baseball fandom right out of them. By the end of the game, the loudest cheers came from the dozen or so Kansas die-hards behind the first-base dugout.
The Jayhawks (29-15) were helped by solid pitching from Ricky Fairchild, who had just one hiccup in a six-inning performance. In the second, Fairchild walked three and hit a batter to force in a run. He had just one walk in the other five innings combined.
"I started tightening up in my hamstrings," Fairchild said. "But I got it all stretched out and took some salt tablets. It got a lot better after that, and I settled down a little bit."
Fairchild allowed just one run after the second - and it was balked in by reliever Brendan McNamara after Fairchild exited. But McNamara, Paul Smyth and Don Czyz all helped shut the door on the Wildcats, allowing no runs in a combined three innings of work.
Czyz pitched a perfect ninth - what's new? - striking out two for his NCAA Division-I leading 15th save. He's yet to blow a save this year.
"He just comes in and goes right at you," KSU coach Brad Hill said. "The confidence : you feel it on their team. They know they're not going to lose.
"That's the feeling we'd all like."
Winning two of three is guaranteed for the Jayhawks, but a sweep is something they haven't had yet in conference play.
And with Quick ready to go today, KU already has an advantage on paper.
"We do it a little different than a lot of people do," Price said. "We use our best guy on Sunday, because I personally think it's the biggest day of the weekend."