Kansas took both games of the doubleheader today versus Nebraska. In the first game Kansas got to Nebraska ace Mike Nesseth and chased him in the third inning while building a 5-0 lead. Nebraska closed the gap to 5-2 but KU starter T.J. Walz (5-1) was too good today to allow the Huskers to draw any closer. Walz struck out 10 batters in 7.2 innings for the win. Kansas won the game by a final score of 8-2. The second game was a back and forth affair until the seventh inning stretch. Nebraska held the leads of 2-0 and 4-3 but KU battled back each time. The Hawks scored three runs in the seventh to take a 6-4 lead and then put the game on ice by scoring three more in the eighth. Final score Kansas 9 – Nebraska 4.
The two wins today allowed KU to improve to 29-15 overall and 10-8 in the Big-12. This puts KU in 5th place in the Big-12 after the weekend shake-up (and it was a very surprising weekend across the conference.) Nebraska falls to 19-23-1 and 5-16, effectively ending their hopes of post-season play. Nebraska is four games behind 8th place Texas Tech with only six conference games left on each of their schedules. Only the top eight teams are invited to the Big-12 tournament. Kansas series victory over Nebraska is the Jayhawks first in eleven years.
After the jump individual recaps of both games and game notes.
Game One: Kansas 8 – Nebraska 2
Kansas built an early 5-0 lead over the first three innings against Nebraska ace Mike Nesseth. Nesseth entered the game with a 7-3 record and a 3.83 ERA for his career at NU which clearly distinguished him on an otherwise struggling staff. As it turned out Nesseth gave Nebraska their weakest starting performance of the weekend, lasting only 2.2 innings while giving up five runs. Brian Heere took Nesseth deep in the first inning for a two run homerun, Heere’s second homer of the weekend. Buck Afenir laced a two run double into the left field alley in the 4th to give KU a 4-0 lead and Casey Lytle ended Nesseth’s day early by taking the first pitch he saw in the third into center field to bring Buck home and stake the Hawks to the five run lead. Nesseth faced 16 batters. He walked two, hit two more, threw a wild pitch, gave up a single, two doubles and a homerun.
As it turned out T.J. Walz had more runs than he needed for the win by the third inning. For the second consecutive year Walz, a native of Omaha, pitched brilliantly against his home-state team. T.J. went 7.2 innings only giving up two runs on five hits and two walks. Walz matched his career high by striking out 10 batters. Walz also accomplished the rare feat of striking out four batters in one inning today. He started the seventh by ringing up D.J. Belfonte looking on a low strike. Nick Sullivan went down hacking on another low pitch. Ben Kline struck out next but the ball got away from KU catcher Buck Afenir and Kline got to first base to keep the inning alive. Cory Burleson, the final K victim of the night for Walz, went down swinging to end the inning.
Buck Afenir and Brian Heere were the offensive stars of the game. Both drove in three runs, Buck on a 3-4 game. Brian went 2-4 with a double and a homerun.
Robby Price injured: Robby Price took one of Mike Nesseth’s wild pitches off his helmet in the third inning. The pitch came in at 91 mph and it produced a loud wack when it hit Robby’s helmet. The KU training staff spent about two minutes with Robby after the pitch and he took his base. The very next pitch delivered by Nesseth was also wild and Robby had the presence of mind to advance to second base. He scored the third KU run on Buck Afenir’s double before being replaced by James Stanfield in the fourth inning. He did not play in the second game. Hopefully Robby was just shook up by the blow.
Narodowski in a fielding slump: David Narodowski committed another error in the first game of the double header. While trying to turn a double play he sent a throw to first base into the KU dugout allowing the first Nebraska run to score. Nardowski committed four errors in Friday’s game and 10 since returning from his injury on April 8th. Ten errors in 13 games certainly qualifies as a fielding slump. Hopefully David will break out of this funk soon.
Game Two: Kansas 9 – Nebraska 4
With an ERA of 7.59 in 32 innings of work freshman Nebraska starter Sean Yost looked like an easy victim from his stat sheet. He turned out to be anything but. The 6’6 right hander gave up only one hit through the first five innings and Nebraska held a 2-1 lead entering the 6th inning. KU starter Lee Ridenhour kept the Jayhawks in the game despite working with less than his best stuff. After giving up a two run homerun in the second inning to D.J. Belfonte Ridenhour pitched around runners in scoring position for the next three innings without allowing any further damage. Ridenhour’s gutty performance was not wasted. Yost, who had not managed to last longer than five innings in any of his previous four starts, hit an early wall again today.
In the sixth inning Kansas started to work on the left side of the Nebraska infield and the runs started finally coming in. Jason Brunansky led off the inning with a single through the 5-6 hole. David Narodowski sent him to third on the next pitch with a double down the third base line. After James Stanfield was hit by a pitch David Narodowski was picked off second base. This was the last out Yost recorded. Brian Heere ended the NU starter’s night with a double to right field which brought home Brunansky and sent Stanfield to third. Casey Hauptman entered the game in relief hoping to shut down the KU offense as he had on Friday. Buck Afenir hit a sac fly off Hauptman to give Kansas its first lead of the night 3-2.
Nebraska rallied in the top of the seventh to reclaim the lead, 4-3. Ridenhour walked Kale Kiser to open the inning and was relieved after allowing the next batter to advance Kiser to second on a ground out. Brett Bochy gave up a hit one out later to Cody Neer which should have tied the game but instead put Nebraska back on top 4-3. Centerfielder Jason Brunansky played the diving line drive indecisively letting it get behind him. Neer never stopped running and touched all four before Brunansky could retrieve the ball and get it back into the infield. This is the third error of this nature committed by Brunanaky this year. I am sure he is going to be a good centerfielder but right now he is having more than his share of trouble playing tweener fly balls.
Kansas did not tolerate the Nebraska lead for long. In the bottom of the seventh they went back to work on the left side. Casey Lytle led off the inning with a single through the 5-6 hole. Nebraska head coach brought in defensive substitute Jake Mort to play third one out later but the next batter, Zac Elgie, followed Lytle’s lead and hit a single through the same gap. After Brunansky popped out with runners on first and second David Narodowsky hit Kansas’ third ground single of the inning to the left bringing home Lytle to tie the game. Jason Stanfield took advantage of his unexpected playing time to make a statement. He drove a single into left field for a two run single which handed KU a 6-4 advantage, the final lead change of the game. The Jayhawks added three more runs in the 8th inning on a Zac Elgie two run double and a Preston Land bases loaded walk. Elgie collected three singles and two RBI’s in the game. After a slow start the freshman is now hitting .343/.407/.443 on the season. Colton Murray, Travis Blankenship and Paul Smyth combined to pitch two scoreless innings to end the game.
Impressed with NU RF Adam Bailey: Adam Bailey is leading Nebraska in most offensive categories and he came as advertized today. Bailey went 4-8 over the two games with two doubles and an RBI. What was unexpected was his defensive play. Bailey made three nice plays in right field today, two of which robbed Brian Heere of hits. If Bailey stays for his senior year Nebraska will have at least one offensive and defensive cornerstone in place for 2010.
James Stanfield plays hero: After Robby Price’s injury in the first game James Stanfield played the next 15 innings of the double header. Stanfield went 2-7 at the plate with three RBIs and three runs scored. Stanfield also made a nice sliding catch of a bloop fly ball behind second base in the second inning of the night cap. Stanfield’s defense at second base looks solid.
Heavy reliance on Travis Blankenship: Blankenship pitched in both ends of the double header today. Travis pitched the final 1.1 innings of the first game and then was called on in the eighth inning of the second game to pitch to five more batters. The junior left-hander has been used in 26 of KU’s 44 games, which leads the pitching staff. I am sure one reason Price loves bringing in Blankenship, he throws strikes. Of the 30 pitches he threw today 21 were in the zone. Blankenship replaced Colton Murray in the second game after Murray walked two of the five batters he faced and hit another one. There are few things more unsettling to a coach than to see a relief pitcher walk batters while protecting a late inning lead.