While most of his teammates entertained themselves in the locker room during a two-hour weather delay before Kansas University’s baseball series finale with Niagara Saturday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark, KU starting pitcher Thomas Taylor wanted to keep his mind on the task at hand.
So the 6-foot-4 senior right-hander from Overland Park exiled himself to the KU dugout, watched the rain fall onto the turf, heard the occasional claps of thunder and every now and then found some entertainment on the video board in right field, which showed part of Oklahoma State’s men’s basketball victory over Kansas State.
“I just sat there and waited,” Taylor said.
Though far from exciting, his approach worked. Taylor struck out six Purple Eagles in six innings, earning his second victory of the season as KU swept the four-game series with an 11-4 win in the rainy finale.
Taylor gave up three hits in the first inning to Niagara (3-13) but got out of it unscathed, and all three runs the visitors plated in the fifth against him were unearned. Steady rain, which delayed the start of the game for two hours and 20 minutes, continued off and on throughout the afternoon. But Taylor — who has 198 strikeouts in his career, placing him two away from tying Don Czyz for ninth all-time in program history — said his pre-game focus helped him get through the showers.
“I just tried to put the conditions out of my mind and tried to throw strikes,” the senior said. “They’re hitting in it, too, so it’s just as hard for them.”
After his team earned its first sweep of the season, Kansas coach Ritch Price said he could tell a second, 14-minute rain delay, which came in the middle of the fourth, impacted Taylor’s performance more than the waiting game he played before the first pitch.
“He wasn’t near as sharp when he went back out, and that’s the hardest thing for a pitcher,” Price said of a two-hit, three-run top of the fifth for Niagara. “It’s almost like when you have a long inning, when you score a lot of runs. In a big-league game you see the pitcher go back out and struggle with his command the next inning. I thought that was the only time he lost his focus.”
Purple Eagles designated hitter Christian Vangeison crushed a three-run double to right-center field in the fifth to put a minor dent in what had become a 7-0 lead for the Jayhawks (10-5). But Taylor got Greg Rodgers to line out to second baseman Tommy Mirabelli to end the inning, and struck out two of the four batters he faced in the sixth. Junior reliever Jordan Piché pitched three innings and gave up one run for his second save.
KU built a seven-run advantage with three-run innings in the first and third and by plating one run in the second. Jordan Dreiling (sacrifice fly), Michael Suiter (single) and Connor McKay (infield fly) drove in a run apiece in the first. Dreiling made it a 4-0 KU lead in the second when he drilled an RBI-single off of starting pitcher Kyle Olver’s ankle. Kansas piled on in the third with an RBI-double from Mirabelli and a two-run single from Dakota Smith.
A sophomore outfielder from Leavenworth, Smith went 2-for-5 with three RBI and said most of the Jayhawks waited out the weather delay by watching TV in the locker room. With just one more game separating Kansas from the start of conference play, Smith said the Jayhawks wanted to make up for a mildly productive offensive doubleheader the day before.
“We knew we needed to come out and get rolling coming into Big 12 play, and we knew we could do it this weekend,” Smith said after KU registered 13 hits, matching its two-game total from Friday’s doubleheader.
Kansas will play host to Jackson State at 3 p.m. Wednesday before traveling to Fort Worth, Texas, for a three-game series at TCU, which begins on Friday.