Kansas freshman Benjamin Sems walked right up to head baseball coach Ritch Price and apologized to him after Sunday’s series finale at Hoglund Ballpark.
A fielding error in the top of the 10th inning by the young third baseman proved to be the fatal flaw in the team’s 7-6 heartbreaker to Northwestern State. After winning the first two games of the series, to move Price into the winningest coach in KU history, the team was unable to complete the three-game weekend sweep due to the extra-inning blunder.
Still, Price wasn’t going to accept his apology.
“The young man is one of the greatest kids to walk on the planet,” Price said. “But there is no apologizing in baseball. Those things happen. It’s like I told him, he’s a really good baseball player and he made a mistake. Now he will get a game winner sometime this season and get a chance to redeem himself.”
After sitting down the first two batters to open the free frame, closer Stephen Villines grazed the wrist of Demons’ second baseman Spencer Goodwin, who advanced into scoring position on a stolen base.
That’s when Villines got right fielder Miller Parker to roll a chopper towards third base. Sems got in front of the ball in time, but was unable to get a glove down as he rushed to field the slow roller. The ball skipped through his legs as Goodwin scored the decisive run from second. Sems’ inexperience led to his second error in four appearances on the year.
But for KU (4-7) to even be in that situation in the first place showed the different spectrums to the team’s youthfulness through the early part of the season.
Trailing 6-4, the Jayhawks received two free passes to start the bottom of the ninth. Sophomores Devin Foyle (hit-by-pitch) and David Kyriacou (walk) each moved into scoring position on a wild pitch, as sophomore Rudy Karre and freshman James Consentino followed it up with consecutive strikeouts.
That left it all up to freshman catcher Jaxx Groshans.
“I was sitting in the on-deck circle and I was watching his patterns,” Groshans said. “The one thing that went through my mind was that this isn’t about me. This isn’t a me moment, this is us. A home run would have been nice to walk it off but I’ll take it.”
Groshans watched the first pitch by Cole Langdon miss high for a ball. There he sat waiting for the second pitch, a fastball right down the middle, that he ripped into center field to plate both Foyle and Kyriacou. His base knock evened the score and sent the home dugout into a frenzy as he pumped his fist multiple times from second base.
The celebration was short-lived, however, as the Jayhawks had just one more baserunner for the rest of the afternoon and fell victim to a defensive miscues. Three errors on the day led to three runs for the Demons (4-6).
“I have a lot of freshman and a lot of sophomores playing and one of the things I know from experience is it will take me about 20 games to get that all ironed out,” Price said. “But there were a lot of good things that happened today.”
One of those good things was starting pitcher, Taylor Turski, who was overshadowed by the late-inning spectacle. The junior-college transfer tossed six innings of three-run ball with seven strikeouts and three walks. About the only mistake Turski made was on a pitch that he left up in the zone in the third frame, which David Fry deposited for a three-run homer.
Kansas responded to the three-run blast with a three-spot of its own in the sixth inning on a pair of hits, including an RBI single by Groshans, to claim a 4-3 advantage.
But it wouldn’t last long either as Northwestern State opened the eighth inning with three straight singles off sophomore Zack Leban, which turned into three runs despite Villines’ best effort to contain the mess. Villines allowed one unearned run across three innings of work.
“Villines does what he always does,” Price said. “We made two mistakes behind him and he still kept competing. We obviously made a really bad mistake in the 10th inning. But that’s a part of the baseball game.”
KU will play host to Omaha at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
NW State 003 000 030 1 — 7 8 1
KU 000 103 002 0 — 6 11 3
W — Cole Langdon, 1-1. L — Stephen Villines, 0-2. S — E. Daigle, 2.
2B — Brett Vosik, KU. HR — David Frye, NW State.
KU highlights — Jaxx Groshans, 2-for-4, 3 RBI; Brett Vosik 3-for-4, walk, RBI; Taylor Turski, 6.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 7 K; Stephen Villines 3 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 4 K.