LAWRENCE, Kan. — Clean-up hitter Dakota Smith’s knocked in three runs on two-out hits and scored another as Kansas beat West Virginia 5-2 to clinch the weekend series.
West Virginia (27-19, 9-10 Big 12), after failing to hold a late lead in Friday night’s opener, never led Saturday afternoon as starter Robert Kahana pitched 6 1/3 strong innings and Stephen Villines notched his seventh save to carry the Jayhawks (32-21, 14-9) to their eighth consecutive conference victory.
After losing back-to-back games for the first time since April 12-13, the Mountaineers will try to avoid the sweep Sunday.
Ross Vance (3-2) surrendered five earned runs in 6 1/3 inning, allowing seven hits—three of those to Smith—and four walks.
A leadoff infield single by Smith and a walk landed Vance in trouble in the second. After Friday night’s home-run hero Tucker Tharp bunted the runners over, Ka’iana Eldredge’s groundout to short put Kansas up 1-0.
The gap widened to 3-0 in the third when Smith ripped a letter-high fastball into the left-field corner for a two-run, two-out double.
West Virginia regained one of those runs in the fourth, when Jacob Rice grounded into a double play—one of three that plagued the Mountaineers—with runners on the corners.
Smith countered with a two-out RBI single in the fifth to make it 4-1.
“I think the last three weeks we have been playing really well,” Smith said. “I think we have just been getting hotter and hotter and it has carried over to today. It has been a lot of fun.”
After hitting three WVU batters in the first two innings, Kahana steadied himself to deliver a quality start. He allowed six hits, including back-to-back doubles by Cam O’Brien and Jackson Cramer in the seventh, when WVU closed to within 4-2. But Jayhawks reliever Drew Morovick fanned Michael Constantini and walked Taylor Munden before ending the threat on Bobby Boyd’s line-out to second base.
“I think we have reached that point in our season where we are peaking at the right time,” said Kansas coach Ritch Price. “It seems like we have played really good baseball the last four weeks and it all starts with good starting pitching. (Kahana) was a little shaky with his command early in the game, but we turned three double plays behind him. I thought that set the tone and allowed him to settle in.”
Control problems haunted WVU in the bottom of the seventh, leading to a Kansas insurance run. After Michael Suiter’s one-out single, Ross walked Smith and was replaced by Pascal Paul, who promptly walked the next two batters on only nine pitches to force home a run.
The Mountaineers finished with seven hits, only the second time in the last 12 games they failed to reach double digits.
Game 3 is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday.