Jayhawks fall to No. 4 Texas Tech in regular-season finale
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LUBBOCK, Texas – When you’re hot, you’re hot, and the No. 4 Texas Tech baseball team proved that Saturday afternoon at Rip Griffin Park with a 9-4 win over Kansas in the regular-season conference finale.
The Jayhawks (29-26, 11-13 Big 12) had their fair share of opportunities to break the game open stranding 10 runners on base, but the Red Raiders (42-13, 16-8 Big 12) caught every break en route to their second-straight conference title.
Those breaks came in the way of a throwing error from freshman right fielder Brett Vosik, a scoreless top of the sixth inning after Kansas loaded the bases with no outs, and a handful of bloop pop ups that found holes in the bottom of the seventh inning to break the game wide open.
“They are as good as their ranking,” head coach Ritch Price said. “That is the best team we have played all year, by far – and we have played a top-25 schedule in the country. On the weekend we play them, they are clicking on all cylinders.”
Kansas started the game hot with three hits in the first frame, but failed to score a run until the fourth inning. Conversely, Texas Tech scored at least one run in the first four innings off redshirt-junior righty Sean Rackoski (5-5), and totaled seven off the hurler in three and 1/3 innings pitched.
Price then turned the ball over to his ace closer, Stephen Villines, who stopped the bleeding for three and 2/3 innings of work. Texas Tech struck out five times against Villines and only hit one ball square. The sidearm slinger caught some bad breaks after three bloop base knocks in the seventh inning found holes and plated two more Red Raider runs.
“We have to get a good starting pitching performance,” Price said. “We are not going to get back in it and have a chance to win until someone walks out on that bump and gives us a quality start. Texas Tech just picked apart our pitching this weekend – everyone except Villines.”
Those runs in the seventh pushed TTU’s lead to six runs, after the Jayhawks squandered back-to-back bases loaded opportunities in the fifth and sixth innings, respectively. In the fifth, Kansas scored a run after a bases loaded walk by junior catcher Tanner Gragg, but sophomore centerfielder Rudy Karre followed with the a ground out in the next at bat to end the threat.
Then in the sixth, KU loaded the bases with no outs off Texas Tech’s reliever Jose Quezada (6-4), but the Mexican native punched out Gragg and Karre in back-to-back at bats and forced freshman second baseman James Cosentino to fly out to get out of the jam.
“We got down five early and then battled back to score a couple runs,” Price said. “I actually thought we had a chance there with the bases loaded, but those back-to-back strikeouts really hurt. If we could have got a clutch hit right there, it could have been a different game.”
Junior shortstop Matt McLaughlin (2-for-3) and sophomore right fielder Ty Denzer (2-for-3) posted multi-hit efforts with five other Jayhawks recording at least one base knock. Gragg led the charge driving in two runs and had one of the team’s two extra-base hits, with McLaughlin having the other.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Bobbles: The Red Raiders strung together a big three-run second inning after Kansas right fielder Brett Vosik bobbled a routine ball. That error led to the first run of the frame for TTU and the squad went on to plate two more to take an early 4-0 lead.
Left them loaded: Trailing Texas Tech 7-3, Kansas managed to load the bases in the top of the sixth inning with no outs and its nine-one-two hitters coming to the plate. The Red Raiders’ reliever Jose Quezada found his rhythm and retired the next three hitters he faced – junior catcher Tanner Gragg (strikeout); sophomore centerfielder Rudy Karre (strikeout); and freshman second baseman James Cosentino (flied out to center).
Kansas heads to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for the 2017 Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. Seeding and bracket information will be released following the conclusion of the final conference game played on Sunday, May 21, between Texas and West Virginia.
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