During the hours leading up to what Kansas University pitcher Frank Duncan dubbed the biggest start of his career, the music that flowed through the sophomore’s iPod featured titles such as “Start the Commotion” and “Push the Tempo.”
It would only make sense, then, if Duncan had taken the mound with a little extra adrenaline for the series opener against No. 2 Texas A&M at Hoglund Ballpark.
Instead, Duncan was the same cool, calm and collected starter that his teammates have come to count on, and for three innings of KU’s 8-0 loss to the Aggies, he dominated.
“He was masterful,” KU coach Ritch Price said. “I was really pleased. He’s picked it up and become a legit Friday night starter. It took one of the best pitchers in America to beat him tonight.”
Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, who fell to 12-22 on the season and 2-8 in Big 12 play, that’s exactly what they faced. In running his record to 5-0, A&M’s Michael Wacha pitched a complete game, struck out six, walked none and gave up just four hits — all singles — to the punchless KU lineup.
“He’s a dominant guy, a first-round pick, top 10 for sure,” said KU’s Tucker Tharp, who went 2-for-4 against the junior. “He pounded the zone with his fastball and he has two complementary pitches to go with it. It was just tough to stay on it all night.”
Added Price of Wacha: “He can really pitch.”
Early on, the Jayhawks found some success against Wacha, as they hit a few balls hard and tried to be physical at the plate. One blast, a deep drive to left field by designated hitter Alex DeLeon in the fourth inning had everyone in the KU dugout thinking about playing with a lead. But the ball hung up and A&M left fielder Brandon Wood hauled it in. An inning later, A&M leadoff hitter Mikey Reynolds parked a two-seam fastball that rode back over the plate over the left-field fence for a three-run home run that gave the Aggies a commanding 4-0 lead.
“(DeLeon’s) stayed in the ballpark, their kids’ got out and that was the difference in the ballgame,” Price said.
The pitch to Reynolds was one of the few bad balls that Duncan threw all night. But defensive lapses behind him — KU committed a season-high four errors — and no pop at the plate from the KU offense wasted Duncan’s strong effort. That was not the way he saw it after the game, though.
“One of the biggest things you have to do as a starter is you have to get used to the fact that there’s going to be another week,” said Duncan, who fell to 3-5. “These games aren’t going to make or break you. There was one pitch I’d like to take back, that’s for sure. But my last three starts, including tonight, I feel like I’ve been doing a better job. Every start you gotta keep getting better.”
With the game out of reach, Price went to his bullpen with one out in the eighth. At the time, Duncan had thrown 101 pitches, struck out six, walked four and given up four earned runs. More important than any of his statistics was the fact that he walked off the mound with more confidence than he had when the game began.
“I feel like I can go out there and beat anyone on Friday night,” Duncan said. “Especially here at Hoglund Ballpark. I love throwing here.”
Added KU catcher James Stanfield of Duncan: “He can’t be thinking too hard on himself right now. They’re No. 2 in the nation, and he shut down their offense for a good portion of that game. He’s just gotta take that and build on it.”
KU and A&M will resume the series at 1 p.m. today with a game that was originally scheduled for 6 p.m. but was moved up because of the threat of severe weather.