Heading into Sunday’s rubber match against Northwestern, Kansas baseball coach Ritch Price desperately needed a strong outing on the mound from his hard-throwing righty Ryan Zeferjahn.
After Saturday’s 18-12 loss to the Wildcats that took nearly four hours to play and forced the Jayhawks to use seven pitchers, Price wanted to see Zeferjahn help get the pitching staff back on track.
And Zeferjahn did just that. He struck out seven batters over six innings in KU’s 10-3 win over Northwestern Sunday at Hoglund Ballpark.
“I was really pleased with Zeferjahn’s performance, especially after the way we pitched (Saturday),” Price said. “The only way you get that momentum stopped is by your starting pitcher going out there and dominating your opponent. And I thought he was absolutely brilliant for the first six innings.”
Through six innings, Zeferjahn had thrown 85 pitches and had only allowed two hits, including a home run to Northwestern’s Willie Calhoun, his third of the three-game series.
Knowing his team had to use many of its bullpen arms the previous day, Zeferjahn went to his skipper and asked if he could pitch in the seventh inning — something he had never done before while in a KU uniform.
Price’s initial plan was to take Zeferjahn out after the sixth, but Zeferjahn convinced his coach to leave him in. However, after the first two Northwestern batters reached base, Price then turned to reliever Tyler Davis to finish the frame.
Still, the 15th-year KU coach remained impressed with the start he received from his highly touted pitcher from Topeka.
“Trying to see him grow up and take another step, and I couldn’t be more pleased with his performance,” Price said.
Zeferjahn’s performance resembled his first start of the season, when he struck out eight batters and hovered around 95 mph on his fastball in a series-clinching win over Murray State last week.
But he said he felt even more confident on Sunday.
“With it being my second start, I was a little more comfortable out there, and I think it was one step up from my last start,” Zeferjahn said. "So, I think going forward, if I can do that every game, then it’s going to be good. Today was, I think, the best start of my career, probably.”
Offensively, KU supplied plenty of run support for Zeferjahn. The Jayhawks loaded the bases three times on the afternoon, and each time they did, they produced runs.
In the bottom of the second, first baseman Owen Taylor drove a two-run single to the right side with the bases loaded to give KU a 2-1 lead. The Jayhawks tacked on another run in the inning on Benjamin Sems’ sac fly to right.
KU added three more runs in the bottom of the fifth. Right fielder Brendt Citta dribbled an infield RBI-single up the right field line, designated hitter Brett Vosik scored on a fielder’s choice and catcher Jaxx Groshans scored on a balk by Northwestern pitcher Jack Pagliarini.
Price said he was pleased with the offensive output he saw from his team throughout the weekend. KU scored 26 runs in the series against Northwestern.
“They’re seeing the ball elevated, they’re using the whole field and, for the most part, they’ve done a good job of being fastball-efficient,” Price said. “Offensively, that’s a really good weekend for us. Hopefully, we can build on that going into this weekend, as well.”
KU will return to action on Monday against Omaha. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Hoglund Ballpark.
Northwestern 010 000 200 — 3 6 1
Kansas 030 030 13 x — 10 12 0
W — Zeferjahn (2-0). L — Danny Katz (0-1).
2B — Foyle 2, KU; Citta 2, KU. HR — Bourbon, Northwestern.
KU highlights — Zeferjahn, 6 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 7 K; Vosik, 3-for-4, 2 R, walk; Citta, 4-for-5, 2 R, 3 RBI; Foyle, 2-for-4, run, 2 RBI.