Coming off of two straight losses to rivals, the No. 5 Texas Longhorns arrived in Lawrence on Thursday hoping to regain some momentum as the schedule lightened. Against the Kansas Jayhawks at Hoglund Ballpark, the Longhorns did exactly that, using eight strong innings from ace Ty Madden and four hits by second baseman Mitchell Daly to beat the Jayhawks, 5-2.
Heading into Easter Weekend, Ty Day came a day earlier than normal — Thursday is Ty Day just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? — and Madden was his usual steady self, throwing 117 pitches, striking out five, walking one, and scattering seven hits as he gave up one unearned run.
The only unusual aspect of Madden’s performance was just how many Kansas players were able to reach base. Not just any batters, though, it was the batters leading off innings who flummoxed Madden all night — six of the eight leadoff batters reached base.
But Madden was able to work past those baserunners thanks to some help from catcher Silas Ardoin, who threw out runners in the first and fifth innings, and some good luck when Kansas put runners in motion with two double plays on fly balls.
The unearned run scored by the Jayhawks came in the second inning after an error by center fielder Mike Antico on a single allowed the runner to advance to second and then score on a double down the left-field line to tie the game at 1-1.
Texas had scored quickly in the first inning when Daly singled up the middle, advanced to third on a single by first baseman Zach Zubia through the right side of the infield, and scored when catcher Silas Ardoin grounded out to the pitcher.
In the second inning, the Longhorns missed out on an opportunity following two singles when a sacrifice bunt attempt by Antico resulted in designated hitter Ivan Melendez getting thrown out at third by the Jayhawks catcher on a nice play. Kansas escaped the jam without allowing a run when shortstop Trey Faltine struck out looking and left fielder Eric Kennedy flied out to left field.
Three innings later, some strong two-strike hitting helped spark a two-out rally as Kennedy singled to left field on a 1-2 pitch, stole second, and scored on a 2-2 double by Daly into the left-center gap.
Two runs in the eighth and another run in the ninth help create some cushion. One again, Daly was involved, singling through the right side to start the eighth inning and scoring on a triple by Zubia off the wall in right field, his team-leading second of the season. Zubia then scored on another nice piece of two-strike hitting, as third baseman Cam Williams singled through the right side. In the ninth, Antico walked on a full count, stole second, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Faltine, and scored on a single by Kennedy.
Texas left eight runners on base and only managed two walks, but took much more consistent approaches at the plate, striking out only six times and knocking out 11 hits, often by letting the ball travel and hitting it to the opposite field. The two-strike hits gave evidence of how locked in the Longhorns were when the Jayhawks pitchers were able to get ahead in the count.
Once again, Daly was the most impressive position player, scoring twice and driving in a run. Known for his glove out of high school, the question with Daly was always how long it would take his bat to come around and it’s been bette than expected — the Alabama product is now hitting .406 to lead the team and has shown some pop with a home run and six doubles. No other regular player for Texas is hitting over .290 at the moment, so Daly’s contributions have been key, especially with Antico scuffling along at .207.
On the mound, right-hander Aaron Nixon got into some trouble trying to close out the game, allowing a run on three singles, but was able to escape without too much damage by striking out the final hitter.
Texas looks to take the series against Kansas at 6 p.m. Central on Friday on ESPN+ as right-hander Tristan Stevens (3-1, 3.93) against right-hander Cole Larsen (4-1, 0.86), the typical Saturday starter for the Jayhawks who has performed the best of their starting pitchers.