Kansas baseball coach Ritch Price has been in a ton of different situations during his 35-plus year baseball coaching career.
But the 11-year Kansas coach said the NCAA Tournament opener against Kentucky was “one of the most unusual games” he’s ever been involved in.
The No. 3 seed Jayhawks took out second-seed Kentucky 10-6 in a Louisville Regional opening game that ended six hours and 36 minutes after it was scheduled to start and included three weather delays at Jim Patterson Stadium.
“I’m just proud of the toughness our team showed,” Price said. “That was a pretty complete performance by our ballclub; about as good as we can play.”
The game was delayed 20 minutes at the start because of lightning. Then Kansas scored three runs in the top of the first before a delay of 63 minutes because of a deluge. The Jayhawks only had one out.
“It was different to just stop and go,” center fielder Tucker Tharp said.
Kentucky, which got three runs in the bottom of the first, tied it at 6 in the bottom of the fourth and then a third rain delay — which was extended to one hour and 58 minutes because of lighting — stopped play in the bottom of the fifth.
When the game resumed, Kansas chipped away. The Jayhawks plated two runs in both the seventh and eighth innings to grab the victory.
“The great thing about this team is that we have no superstars,” Price said. “We have to compete and get after it to be good. So with no superstars, we have to try and do all of the little things to make us good and we did that here.”
Kansas (35-24), which won its final nine games of the regular-season but went 0-2 in the Big 12 tournament, will face the Louisville-Kent State winner in Saturday’s 4 p.m. Central time winners’ bracket game. The two games on Sunday are 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Central time.
Tharp was the hitting hero, going three for five with three RBIs, while No. 9 hitter Tommy Mirabelli was two for three with a run scored and two RBIs. Eight players had hits for Kansas, while seven scored runs and four had RBIs.
The win may have been costly for Kansas. Price said clean-up hitter Dakota Smith (.337) “caught his cleat on a slide home in the first” and was being checked out for a torn ligament in his knee.
Justin Protacio walked to start the game for Kansas and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt that pitcher Kyle Cody threw into right field for an error. Michael Suiter bunted the runners over before a two-run double to left by Smith.
With still one out, Smith scored on an error by catcher Michael Smith on a throw to second base on an attempted steal by the Jayhawks.
Cody didn’t return after the first rain delay and Andrew Nelson worked out of the jam. Ka’ai Tom then hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the first for Kentucky.
But the Wildcats were still stunned by the quick start by KU.
“It definitely took a little of our mojo away,” Reed said. “We didn’t expect that kind of start. Kansas played a great game. They could have folded after we came back, but you tip your cap to them.”
KU came right back with three in the top of the second, highlighted by a two-run single from Suiter. Kentucky scored one in the third and two in the fourth off starter Jordan Piché, who went out after the rain delay to start the bottom of the fifth.
Tharp doubled home Joven Afenir, who had replaced Smith in right field, in the seventh and then scored on a double play ball later in the inning.
Mirabelli led off the eighth with a triple to right and scored on a single by Protacio, who added an insurance run on a double by Colby Wright.
Drew Morvick (10-4) worked 3 1/3 innings and allowed only one hit and no runs to get the win, while Stephen Villines closed it out in the final 1 2/3 innings.
“It was a long day,” Tharp said. “Our guys did a good job of getting ready to go again (after the stoppages). It was a great effort.”