Try as it might, Texas A&M’s baseball team could not hide from Kansas University during Sunday’s series finale at Hoglund Ballpark.
Donning camouflage tops and entering the game with two routs of the Jayhawks fresh in their minds, the second-ranked Aggies were beaten from start to finish in a 5-3 loss that represented Kansas University’s best and biggest victory of the season.
“I think they thought we’d roll over and hand the series sweep to them,” said KU catcher James Stanfield, who described the feeling after recording the final out as an enormous weight being dropped from his chest. “But getting one game and not getting swept in a Big 12 series is huge.”
The victory, which snapped an eight-game losing skid for the Jayhawks, started like the previous two in the series, with Texas A&M striking first. KU starter Thomas Taylor walked and hit A&M batters in the top of the first and gave up an RBI single to put the Jayhawks in a 1-0 hole. At that point, it would have been easy for the Jayhawks (13-23 overall, 3-9 in Big 12) to roll their eyes and succumb to the here-we-go-again vibe. They chose not to.
“Today, it really wasn’t like that,” Stanfield said.
Instead, the Jayhawks responded in the bottom of the first with RBI singles from Zac Elgie (1-for-3 with a walk) and Jordan Dreiling (2-for-3 with two runs scored) and spent the rest of the afternoon in control. That was particularly true of Taylor (4-4), who struggled with his command in the first but quickly turned dominant. During his final six innings, Taylor gave up just three hits while striking out two and walking two. He retired the Aggies (28-8, 9-3) in order in both the third and the fifth.
“He was lights-out today,” Stanfield said.
More important than the way he pitched was how much he pitched. Because he had taxed his bullpen so much during Friday and Saturday losses, KU coach Ritch Price said Sunday’s game was going to be a two-man show on the mound, with Taylor getting the start and going as deep as he could and closer Tanner Poppe cleaning up the rest.
“We got exactly what we wanted,” Price said. “Taylor went seven innings and left with the lead and handed it over to Poppe.”
Poppe, though a touch wild, struck out three during his two innings.
While the KU pitchers did what they had to do on the mound, KU’s bats matched them. In pounding out 10 hits off of seven Texas A&M pitchers, the Jayhawks saw their upperclassmen deliver throughout the day. Shortstop Kevin Kuntz had two hits. Stanfield finished with three. And Elige and Marasco each picked up a hit as well.
“It really starts with our experienced guys today,” Price said. “It was nice to see some of our older guys be productive.”
Asked after the game if this was his team’s best performance of the season, Price said it might have been because of the quality of the opponent.
The KU players seemed to have little doubt that it was.
“It’s always huge to beat No. 2,” Stanfield said. “But just to get out of the funk we were in … it’s huge.”