The Jayhawks won both ends of their doubleheader with Northwestern today at Hoglund Park. In the first game the Hawks staged a furious rally to overcome an 8-4 8th inning deficit. Kansas scored five runs in the bottom of the 8th for a 9-8 victory. In the nightcap KU built a 5-0 lead in the first four innings and rode it to a 7-3 final score.
Kansas improved to 6-3 on the year. A perfect spring day brought out a good crowd to cheer on the Hawks. The two teams will meet again Saturday night at 7PM and then again on Sunday at 1PM.
Game recaps and box scores after the jump.
Game 1: Kansas 9 – Northwestern 8 FINAL
Game one was a pitcher's duel through seven innings. Even though the score was tied 4-4 after seven both Shaeffer Hall and Northwestern ace Eric Jokisch had pitched very good games only to have their defenses let them down. Normally steady centerfielder Nick Faunce committed two costly errors, allowing the Wildcats to score four unearned runs. While none of Jokisch’s runs were credited as unearned at least two would have been prevented by more capable defensive play. Jake Marasco was credited with an RBI triple in the 2nd inning on a catchable fly ball.
The duel turned into a brawl in the 8th inning. Hall came out to start the inning but was spent. After giving up a single and a deep fly ball to the first two batters he was lifted for Brett Bochy. Bochy made some good pitches but couldn’t convert them into outs. Northwestern ended up sending eight men to the plate in the inning and broke the game open. Facing an 8-4 score with only two more innings I was not feeling a great deal of hope. I was wrong. Once Kansas got into the Northwestern bullpen they rampaged. With two outs and a runner on first KU went to work and pushed five runs over the plate. Paul Smyth recorded his third consecutive 1-2-3 9th inning appearance to nail down the victory.
There were two big stars for Kansas in the first game. Tony Thompson smashed, no, SMASHED!, a two-run homerun to dead center in the fourth inning. It was the furthest I have ever seen a ball hit at Hoglund. I’ll estimate 430 feet. Casey Lytle gets notice as well. With the score tied in the top of the 8th 4-4 Lytle stole a homerun from Chris Lashmet by going over the right field fence and bringing the ball back into the field of play. This was the last batter Shaeffer Hall pitched to.
Game 2: Kansas 7 - Northwestern 3 FINAL
Game two was less dramatic. Kansas built a 5-0 lead in the first four innings mostly on the strength of two 2-run homeruns. Robby Price was credited with an inside the park homerun in the bottom of the first but the play could have as easily been scored a 4-base error on the left fielder who first tried to make a low running catch and than took long enough tracking down the ball behind him for Robby to touch all four. Buck Afenir got his homerun the more traditional way by taking a ball over the left field fence.
There were both sparkling and worrisome plays on defense for KU. Twice today Tony Thompson climbed a ladder at third to snag line-drives. His defense probably saved three runs today. I am completely sold on him at the hot corner now. Jimmy Waters started his first game in the outfield in 2009 and played a line-single well, getting it back into the infield quickly and holding a runner on 2nd to a one base advancement. This was encouraging as it showed Waters might be ready to play full-time in the outfield soon. Waters is rehabbing his shoulder after an off-season surgery. Zac Elgie started at first base. He let a ground ball get by him in the fifth inning that he is going to have to get to in the future. It would not have been a routine play but it would have been a play that a D-I first basemen would be expected to make. Zac did collect two hits and an RBI today so he maybe getting more comfortable at the plate.
KU’s starting pitcher, T.J. Walz, looked very good through four innings. He retired the first 10 batters he faced. The fifth inning did not go as well, Walz gave up two runs, but did finish the frame. Kevin Burk and Colton Murray pitched effectively out of the bullpen, two innings apiece.
The attendance for the doubleheader was 1,105. For most of the day there were at least 400 fans in the stands. I also had a chance to visit with some of the parents included those of Northwestern shortstop Kenneth Avila. The Avila’s drove up from south Texas to watch their son play. Nice people, even if they are Texas A&M baseball fans. The first thing they commented on was how impressed they were with the KU pitching staff. I told them that there was a time not too long ago when no KU fan would have expected to hear those words spoken by a visting fan.