Robby Price and Brett Lisher found a familiar face staring back at them Tuesday when they stepped to the plate during Kansas University’s matchup with visiting Western Illinois.
For the first time since leading Free State High to the 2006 Class 6A state championship, they found themselves on the same field as former prep teammate John Sneegas, a junior pitcher at WIU making just his third Division-I start against the Jayhawks.
“Today when I got here, I saw his name, and me and (former FSHS teammates and current KU players Travis Blankenship and Lisher) kind of laughed and were like, ‘All right,’” said Price, who played four years of prep ball with Sneegas.
In his first trip to Lawrence since going 2-0 with a 1.11 ERA for the Firebirds, the 5-foot-11 lefthander — making his first appearance since beating then-No. 11 Oklahoma State earlier this month — didn’t exactly enjoy a fortuitous homecoming.
Sneegas gave up nine hits and 10 runs (seven earned) as Kansas belted out 16 hits and capitalized on four Western Illinois errors to top the Leathernecks, 14-3, in the first of the teams’ two-game series.
“If anything, they probably had an edge on me, getting to see me in high school,” said Sneegas, asked if his knowledge of his former teammates tendencies helped on the mound. “But they’re great guys and they’ve been swinging the bat real well. They’re kind of on a roll.”
Any hint of a letdown following their weekend sweep of top-ranked Texas was quickly dispelled when the Jayhawks pieced together a six-run fourth inning that represented their biggest of the season and put Western Illinois in a 10-3 hole.
After falling behind 2-0 to start the game, Kansas scored in four straight innings, knocking Sneegas from the game in the fourth and continuing to knock the ball around the field until the game’s lopsided conclusion.
Right-fielder Casey Lytle led the way for the Jayhawks, going 3-for-6 with two runs and two RBIs, one of four Kansas players to knock in more than one run on a day in which many of the team’s regulars were given the afternoon off.
“It was nice to see a bunch of different guys get a base hit,” said Kansas coach Ritch Price, who left usual starters Tony Thompson, Buck Afenir and Brian Heere on the bench. “... That’s what I hoped would be accomplished today, that I’d get a chance to play a lot of my backup guys and get them some game experience. So from that standpoint, it was a positive day for us.”
KU reliever Kevin Burk earned his first victory of the season, replacing starter Cameron Selik to throw three scoreless innings, while Thomas Marcin and Kelson Boyer pitched an inning each and combined for four strikeouts.
Sneegas endured the loss to fall to 1-2 this season.
One of the lone bright spots for Western Illinois was senior first-baseman Tyler Metcalf, the younger brother of former Kansas standout Travis Metcalf.
Apparently taking a cue from his power-hitting sibling, who holds Kansas’ single-season home run record with 18, Tyler hit a pair of solo home runs Tuesday to provide the bulk of the Leathernecks’ offensive firepower — though it came far short of compensating for a pitching staff that allowed 14 runs.
Despite the rough return, however, Sneegas admitted that the opportunity to take the field against his former teammates was undeniably unique.
“When I get on the mound I try not to really think about who I’m throwing against,” he said. “I treat everyone the same, each team. But every once in awhile I would look up and realize I’m pitching against a kid I played with.
“That was pretty neat.”