Kansas Relishes Playing In World University Baseball Championship

Image credit: Ryan Zeferjahn, Kansas (Photo Courtesy of Kansas Athletics)

For many members of the Kansas Jayhawks, it was the greatest experience of their lives.

Kansas earlier this month represented the United States at the World University Baseball Championship in Taiwan. The Jayhawks went 3-3 in the tournament, losing to South Korea in the bronze medal game.

Kansas kicked off the event with a 16-1 dismantling of Hong Kong in the opening game. The team proceeded to beat Russia 12-2 and defeated South Korea in one-of-two matches and ultimately got to the bronze medal game, before falling, 7-4. The Jayhawks posted a 3-3 record in their six contests and narrowly lost a game to Taiwan in 12 innings by a score of 8-7 that would have put them in the gold medal round.

But coach Rich Price was pleased with the experience his team gained from the trip, especially during that extra-inning game.

“I thought our guys embraced the culture,” Price said. “I think they loved the opportunity to compete at the international baseball level and it was a tremendous learning experience for our guys. We lost a game to (Taiwan) in 12 innings that would have got us to the gold medal game and we played the international tiebreaker for three innings and I’m gonna be honest with you, that’s the first time I’ve ever been involved with that and I wish we would add that in America. It put a lot of pressure on the guys. It was really fun to compete with the game on the line and that table being set with those runners on first and second and I thought that was the best learning experience of the trip.”

While the man in charge said his players made some mistakes in the extra-inning affair, he believes the experience gained from the high-pressure situation will be beneficial moving forward.

“We made three mental mistakes in each one of the three extra innings in games that we had an opportunity to win and we were one strike away from winning, one out away from winning,” Price said. “We made a mental mistake in each one of those situations and literally it was the first time our kids had played in that tiebreaker rule and been exposed to that and we didn’t handle it very good, so it was a tremendous learning experience.”

That same Taiwan team was one that gave USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team headaches earlier in the summer at the National Team Complex in Cary, N.C.

Of the 24 players that made the voyage across the world, one man in particular stood out — junior catcher Jaxx Groshans.

Groshans posted a solid .313 batting line with 22 extra base hits during the 2018 season and continued to hit the ball well in Taiwan. He boasted a .474 average in six games and added a home run and triple, all while playing with a hurt hamstring, an injury he had suffered playing for Orleans in the Cape Cod League.

“He had a slight hamstring pull, he pulled his hamstring right before, in the Cape, right before we left,” Price said. ”So, he was limited to playing first base a little bit and DH-ing. But he swung the bat great and I tell you what I’m really proud of him, too, he made that 28-hour trip home and the next day he goes into the Cape and gets three knocks in his first game back, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it.”

Groshans said his swing was a little out of sorts when he left Orleans, but he was able to get back on track with the Jayhawks.

“Before I left (Orleans), I was thinking too much, the pressure was getting to me and I just kind of needed a break,” he said. “Taiwan was that break for me. When I got over there, obviously the pressure of the games was there, but it wasn’t anything worse than what I’d faced before. I got to myself again, got back to my roots and what worked and got back to my swing again and carried it back here and it’s working pretty well.”

Groshans will next year be one of the leaders of the Jayhawks, and Price expects him to continue to grow as a player.

“Well I think he’s capable of winning the Big 12 batting title,” Price said. “He’s as good of an offensive player as we’ve coached in my 12 years at KU.”

Groshans said he enjoyed getting to see his Kansas teammates again in the middle of the summer.

“I missed them. Those are my brothers,” Groshans said. “I’ve played with them coming on three years now. I’ve made a lot of friendships that’ll last me a life time and it’s always good to see those guys back in action and see how they’re doing over the summer.”

Pitchers Ryan Cyr and Ryan Zeferjahn, a redshirt junior and junior respectively, also shown during the international action. Cyr pitched 7.1 scoreless frames in relief and Zeferjahn made two starts, pitching to a 2.57 earned run average and striking out six batters in seven innings.

Cyr is a pitcher that has plenty of versatility, something Price noted.

“He set up last year,” Price said, “because he’s got that resilient arm where he can pitch two innings out of the bullpen for you on Friday and bounce back for you on Sunday and go two innings again and there’s not a lot of guys that can do that without a drop off so we’re trying to find if we’re going to use him in a closer’s role, make him a starter, he’s a really valuable guy and he’s highly competitive, too.”

But overall, it was not the wins and losses that truly mattered during this trip — it was the experience of witnessing another country and its culture.

“I took 24 guys,” Price said. “Thirteen guys since we got back on Monday have either personally called me or sent me a text saying it was the greatest experience of their lives and I think our players embraced the culture and I think the bonding that took place, the team chemistry will be invaluable going forward. I recommend it to every team in the country if they had an opportunity to take their team to play international baseball to do so.”

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