Kicking off the second to last home series of the season, the Kansas baseball team welcomed and defeated a Texas team that arrived slated one spot behind the home squad in the conference standings.
Handing the ball to the ace of the pitching staff in junior pitcher Ryan Zerferjahn, the Jayhawks looked for much of the same out of their hard-throwing right-hander. Receiving the contributions the club desired and then some, Kansas sent the fans home happy after pulling off a dramatic come-from-behind walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth by a score of 4-2.
Matched up with Longhorns starter, sophomore pitcher Bryce Elder, the game on paper seemed destined for a pitchers' duel. As both pitchers dominated through the first two innings, it was Zeferjahn who faltered first among the two.
Running his pitch count high in part to the increasing number of strikeouts and elongated plate appearances by Texas, the first run of the game came off the bat of junior outfielder Duke Ellis. Slicing it just over the head of junior shortstop Benjamin Sems, the Longhorns struck first to take the early 1-0 lead in the top of the third. From there, Elder seized control, limiting the Jayhawk offense to one hit over the first five innings of play.
In the bottom of the sixth, freshman outfielder Casey Burnham sparked a rally with a lead-off single up the middle. On the next at-bat, junior infielder James Cosentino dropped a ball perfectly in left-center field, allowing Burnham the opportunity to scamper home and tie the game at one apiece. Despite grinding through the six innings of work and tallying over 100 pitches, Kansas coach Ritch Price decided to stick with Zeferjahn into the seventh.
“He’s really grown up in his time with us,” Price said. “He’s become competitive, and he’s improved his off-speed pitches. That young man is going to have a bright future.”
Walking a Texas hitter on his 123rd pitch of the evening, the right-hander departed with a final total of 6 2/3 innings, allowing one run on two hits while striking out 10. Coming on with the go-ahead run at first base, redshirt junior pitcher Nathan Barry struck out the third out of the inning to strand the runner on first.
In the top of the ninth, the Longhorns finally broke through again after being held scoreless since the third inning. With a runner on second, freshman infielder Lance Ford smashed one up the middle, but Sems laid out to knock it down before rolling into the outfield. Bouncing a few feet away from him, the runner was sent home, testing the arm and accuracy of the Jayhawks' shortstop. Coming in a tad late on a bang-bang play, the Longhorns reclaimed the advantage heading into the final half inning of play.
“You know they’re going to score at some point, and we had to answer back,” Price said.
Although the momentum heavily favored the visitors, for the time being, junior outfielder Brett Vosik suddenly snagged it right back. Working the count full as the lead-off man, Vosik pounded the next pitch over the right-field wall and halfway up the scoreboard to tie the game once again. Sending the crowd into a frenzy, the antics were not yet soon to be finished.
Four batters later, Burnham approached the plate. Falling down 0-2 with two outs, the next pitch came in as hanging changeup. Almost as if he was sitting on that pitch, Burnham launched his first career home run into the night sky, drilling the jumbotron in right field to walk it off.
“Somebody had to have a great at-bat. It’s really good to see those guys clutch up with the game on the line,” Price said.
On his first career round-tripper, Burnham had no doubt the Jayhawks were going home with a victory.
“Once it got up in the air, I knew it was going to be gone,” Burnham said. “I put my hand up in the air, and the celebration was awesome after that.”
The series continues on Saturday afternoon. First pitch is set for 2 p.m.