Sunday, May 14, 2017
Sometimes in sports, wins and losses are a relative thing.
Take, for example, the Kansas baseball team’s weekend series with Sunflower State rival Kansas State.
Sure, the Jayhawks may have lost the finale, 10-3 on a sunny Sunday at Hoglund Ballpark, but the end of their eight-game winning streak did not leave them feeling like it was the end of the world thanks to victories in the first two games of the series, which gave KU its first series win over the Wildcats since 2014.
“Our goal each year is to try to sweep somebody and not get swept,” said junior shortstop Matt McLaughlin, who went 3-for-4 with two RBI and two doubles in Sunday’s loss. “We were hoping to sweep these guys today but as long as we take care of business next weekend we really like where we are.”
Kansas (29-23 overall, 11-10 Big 12) never really stood much of a shot on Sunday, graduation day and the final home game in the careers of six KU seniors.
K-State (27-24, 6-15) jumped out to a 5-0 lead and chased starting pitcher Ryan Zeferjahn from the game after just 2.1 innings and did not stop there. The Wildcats scored in all but two innings, adding two in the seventh and one more in both the eighth and ninth innings to keep any thoughts of a Kansas comeback at bay.
The Jayhawks, who not only struggled on the mound but also were quiet at the plate, finally showed signs of life with a three-run eighth inning. But the late rally proved to be more about saving face than staging a comeback.
However, thanks to grind-it-out victories on Friday night and Saturday, the Jayhawks put themselves in great position heading into the final four games of the regular season. They’ll play at Creighton on Tuesday — at the home of the College World Series, no less — before finishing Big 12 play at Texas Tech, which entered the weekend ranked No. 3 in the nation.
It’s a daunting task, to be sure. And, truth be told, the Jayhawks are going to need to win at least a game or two in Lubbock next weekend to merit consideration for the postseason.
“The beauty of it is we’re done with school and we can just focus on baseball,” McLaughlin, a team captain, said. “And we’re battling. We’re absolutely battling for our lives. We’ve clinched a spot in the Big 12 tourney but we’re trying to make moves to get into a regional now. And if we can go there and win a series there, our RPI will go through the roof and it’s gonna be really hard for the committee to leave us out.”
In addition to the eight-game winning streak that was snapped on Sunday, the Jayhawks currently sit in a tie for fourth place in the Big 12 and have racked up a 19-8 record since April 1. Beyond that, their RPI number, which has climbed into the 50s thanks to their recent 8-3 mark during their season-ending 11-game homestand, gives them a realistic shot of achieving yet another goal.
This weekend delivered three — KU is guaranteed to finish above .500, will play in the Big 12 tournament and took the series from K-State. Now it’s on to the next one of playing baseball well into the month of June.
Both Price and McLauglin believe it’s possible.
“Skip always talks about overachieving,” McLaughlin said. “We started off the season 2-7 and we were young but our older guys have done such a great job of bringing everybody along. And the biggest thing, I think, is just understanding your window that you’re here. We took last place in the Big 12 two years in a row and I’m tired of that and I’m trying to show these young guys that every day is an opportunity to get better and compete and play for our favorite coach in the country and represent the university as best as possible.”
Added Price of the opportunity to close the season at Texas Tech: “I think it’s the best-case scenario. We gotta play our way in.”
Four of the six seniors on KU’s current roster entered Sunday’s home finale, with Marcus Wheeler and John Remick each pinch hitting and Sean Rackoski and Jeremy Kravetz combining to toss 6.1 innings on the mound. Closer Stephen Villines and outfielder M.J. Farthing did not play. Still, Price had high praise for all six of them as they left the field and made their way to Sunday’s senior banquet.
“You look at college baseball and you don’t see a lot of seniors in most dugouts,” Price said. “We’ve got six seniors in this dugout and Villines is the only one who’s a major contributor. It’s a great compliment to what great teammates those other seniors are. They understand their roles and that speaks volumes about them and the University of Kansas, that you can be a back-up player here for four years and still love your experience.”
Kansas State 113 010 211 10 15 1
Kansas 000 000 030 3 8 0
W – Kasey Ford, 3-1. L – Ryan Zeferjahn, 4-4.
2B: KSU – Cameron Thompson, Steve Serratore, Josh Rolette; KU – Matt McLaughlin 2, James Cosentino.
Highlights for Kansas: Matt McLaughlin 3-for-4, 2 doubles, 2 RBI; Rudy Karre 1-for-4, run; James Cosentino 1-for-4, run, double; Brett Vosik 2-for-4, RBI.