It only took one at-bat for Brendt Citta to begin the Jayhawks’ baseball season—and his collegiate career at KU—with a bang on Friday at Hoglund Ballpark.
Citta drilled a two-run homer to left field in an active bottom of the first inning that helped KU secure a season-opening, 5-3 win over Murray State.
It was the first at-bat for Citta in a Jayhawk uniform after transferring from San Jose State and sitting out last season due to redshirt rules.
And before he even strolled the bases after his home run, Citta said he had to keep himself composed while at the plate.
“Honestly, (I was just trying to) keep my nerves down,” said Citta, who was also named a team captain before the start of the season. “Being off and not playing a year, I definitely had a lot of nerves and I just wanted to focus on staying with my game and (Murray State pitcher Trevor McMurray) fortunately left a fastball up and I attacked it.”
KU baseball coach Ritch Price said Citta’s homer was “the biggest play of the game.”
“That was pretty special,” Price said. “And not only did he hit it out of the ballpark, that ball was absolutely crushed.”
The Jayhawks scored three of their four runs in the first and received enough support from their pitching staff, which was led by starter Jackson Goddard.
Goddard struck out seven batters and allowed only two runs and six hits over five innings of work.
However, the righty from Tulsa said he’s already hoping he can build off what he called an up-and-down outing.
“I think there’s positives and negatives to take away from it,” Goddard said. “I was a little sloppy all throughout, but on the positive side I was able to make some pitches when I needed to get out of some jams.”
Goddard escaped one of those jams in the top of the fourth, where he allowed one run on three hits. The Racers scored their first run of the game on an RBI single from CJ Bush and threatened to score more after loading the bases with two outs.
But Goddard limited the damage by striking out Ryan Perkins on a lively 94-mph fastball to end the inning.
“That was a big pitch,” Goddard said. “It was a pitch I needed to make. The outing could have gone a different direction if I didn’t make that pitch there. It was kind of a mess of an inning but I was able to execute that pitch and get out of it.”
Goddard was followed on the mound by sophomore Ryan Cyr and junior Zack Leban, who recorded the third save of his career.
The bullpen allowed only three hits and one run in the final four innings of the game.
“Really good,” said Goddard of the bullpen’s performance. “Having Cyr come out for two-and-a-third innings with a lot of intensity, he works real fast and just attacks the zone, which is huge to have. And then Leban looked great today. He was 94 (mph) on the last three pitches. Having him on the back end is going to be really good this year.”
Leban has been given the tall task of taking over the closer’s role for Stephen Villines, who watched from the stands during the afternoon after signing with the New York Mets this summer.
Villines became KU’s all-time saves leader last season and closed out 36 games over his four-year collegiate career.
“He was up in the MVP club watching today, and it’s kind of a different feeling to see somebody else out there in the ninth inning,” Price said.
Despite the loss of Villines, Price said he is confident Leban’s ability to close out games. He is also confident in his other bullpen arms, especially Cyr and lefty Chase Kaplan.
“I feel really good about our bullpen,” Price said. “You saw it today … we’ve got some really good arms in that bullpen, but I was really pleased with Cyr’s performance and really pleased with Leban’s performance.”
KU will play its next game of the three-game series against Murray State on Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for 11:30 a.m.