Wichita Too many weeks this season, Kansas University baseball coach Ritch Price had seen an encouraging Big 12 weekend go to waste and his team’s RPI crumble because of a midweek loss.
With that in mind — and the season winding down — the KU coach utilized nearly every weapon he had to secure a 7-5 victory over Wichita State on Tuesday at Eck Stadium.
KU used four relievers, including closer Jordan Piché, to extend its season-best winning streak to six games.
“From here on out, every game’s a playoff game,” KU designated hitter Connor McKay said.
The victory also gave the Jayhawks a two-game season sweep over in-state foe Wichita State.
“It’s a big deal for us,” Piché said. “It keeps pride on our side, and for sure keeps our heads up.”
Trailing 2-1 entering the fifth, KU broke through for five runs by doing most of the little things they’ve done all season.
With one out, Justin Protacio legged out an infield single on a chopper to short. Kevin Kuntz followed with a well-executed hit-and-run, poking the ball to the spot vacated by WSU shortstop Erik Harbutz when he went to cover second base on the steal.
Michael Suiter followed with a single to left to tie it, then KU advanced both runners on a double-steal before Tyler Baker’s throw sailed into left field to move Kuntz home and Suiter to third.
After walks to Jordan Dreiling and Dakota Smith, McKay cleared the bases with a three-run triple to the right-center gap, pushing KU’s lead to 6-2.
“I didn’t think I was going to get a fastball, but he left it up,” McKay said. “Luckily, I got a barrel on it.”
Following his safe head-first slide into third, McKay flipped his right hand into the air to pump up his teammates in the dugout.
The “claw” sign — copied a bit from the Texas Rangers’ hit celebration from a year ago — is usually reserved for clutch doubles, but McKay said he had no issues throwing it up after his first collegiate triple.
“Even better,” he said with a smile.
The hit ended up being significant, as KU relievers Drew Morovick, Junior Mustain and Robert Kahana allowed three earned runs in 2 2/3 innings — and it could have been even worse.
After allowing a leadoff triple in the eighth, Kahana was helped by his defense, as center fielder Tucker Tharp laid out for a full-extension catch in the left-center gap that otherwise would have gone for extra bases.
Price called it “one of the best catches of the year.”
With runners on the corners and two outs in the eighth, the KU coach summoned Piché to protect a 7-5 lead.
The KU closer struck out WSU’s Micah Green, then pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his Big 12-leading 10th save.
The game was delayed 20 minutes in the top of the seventh after the main breaker for the lights on the field tripped, causing a blackout. Interestingly, the power outage did not affect the lights on the scoreboard or around the rest of the stadium.
KU (31-18 overall, 12-9 Big 12) will play host to Kansas State for a three-game series beginning Friday.
Kansas 100 050 100 — 7 10 1
Wichita State 011 000 210 — 5 13 2
W — Tanner Poppe, 4-3. L — Zach Beringer, 1-3. SV — Jordan Piché.
2B — Garrett Bayliff, WSU. 3B — Connor McKay, KU; Taylor Doggett, WSU. HR — Micah Green, WSU.
KU highlights — Connor McKay 2-for-3, 3B, 3 RBI; Michael Suiter 2-for-4, SB, 3R, RBI; Justin Protacio 2-for-4, R; Alex DeLeon 2-for-5.