Ninth-inning Kansas heroics fall short to Texas
OKLAHOMA CITY – It was too little too late for the Kansas baseball team to find its two best swings of the night in the top of the ninth inning against Texas in a 5-4 loss Thursday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in the 2017 Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship.
Longhorn ace Nolan Kingham (9-4) cruised through the first eight innings against the Jayhawks (30-27) in 98 pitches, but found himself toeing the rubber in the ninth against the meat of the order with a three-run lead, 5-2. KU junior shortstop Matt McLaughlin snuck on base with a single down the left-field line, to set the table for a late rally.
Freshman designated hitter Jaxx Groshans stepped to the plate with two outs and rocketed a ball off the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark sign that stands tall on the left-field concourse for his first-career dinger and pull Kansas within a run of Texas, 5-4.
Sophomore third baseman David Kyriacou followed and squared his best swing of the night far and deep to right field, but a major cross wind held the ball in the air too long and it fell short about three feet in front of the fence into UT right fielder Austin Todd’s glove to end the game.
That two-run jack not only inched the Jayhawks close to a dramatic comeback-win, but it also mucked up a what was an almost outstanding complete-game from Texas’ Kingham.
Kansas averaged just under four pitches per plate appearance against the hurler through the first eight frames and finished the game without drawing a walk. Kingham’s day ended when the game did, allowing four runs off seven hits – three extra-base hits – while striking out seven.
“Kingham was special tonight,” head coach Ritch Price said. “He did a nice job of commanding the ball down and pitching the ball on both sides of the plate. He mixed in his off-speed stuff well, and it was a very impressive performance by him today.”
Conversely, the Longhorns (36-20) connected for 11 base knocks off the Jayhawk arms, with just one of them going for an extra-base hit.
The Longhorns wasted no time finding their rhythm against KU sophomore righty Jackson Goddard (5-4), hitting him up for four runs in the second inning. Four singles, a sacrifice bunt, a sacrifice fly and a Kansas error, and the Jayhawks found themselves in a deficit early, 4-0.
Kingham used that advantage and faced the minimum number of batters through the first three frames, with Kansas seeing just 27 pitches.
“It was a lot of one-pitch outs,” McLaughlin said. “We tried to be aggressive because we knew he was attacking us early with his fastball, and we just hit it right at people and he forced some soft contact off the bat. It was tough for us to execute tonight.”
It took a two-out double by McLaughlin in the top of the fourth inning to breath some life into an almost silent Kansas dugout.
McLaughlin roped a pitch into the right center gap after the second double play with a leadoff man aboard looked to end all hopes of a KU rally. Sophomore left fielder Devin Foyle followed suit and lifted a pitch off the wall in left for the RBI-double and first Jayhawk run. Groshans drove in Foyle from second with a single up the middle and Kansas cut the deficit in half, 4-2.
Goddard settled in and threw up three-straight zeroes after the four-spot in the second inning, however, his day ended in the bottom of the sixth after he allowed back-to-back singles to lead off the inning.
“After that four-spot in the second, I was able to settle down and make better of the outing,” Goddard said. “At the end of the day, their guys was fantastic from pitch one and I didn’t match his intensity. I take responsibility for not having the focus that I needed to keep us in the game early.”
Junior reliever Chase Kaplan took over the reins for Goddard and Texas called to junior Jake McKenzie to pinch hit with runners at second and third.
McKenzie drilled a Kaplan fastball off the wall in left center, scoring the Longhorns’ fifth run of the game, and taking whatever momentum Kansas had with it. The Jayhawks wouldn’t garner any of that life back until two outs in the ninth inning, but it was too little, too late and they fell to the Longhorns, 5-4.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Doubled-up: Two different times after sophomore centerfielder Rudy Karre led off innings with a base hit, freshman second baseman James Cosentino grounded into a four-six-three double play. Those two rally killers allowed Texas starting pitcher Nolan Kingham to keep his pitch count low enough to cruise to the finish.
Zeroes: After a four-run second inning, Kansas sophomore hurler Jackson Goddard battled on the hill to throw up three-straight scoreless innings. Those three zeroes allowed Kansas to cut the deficit in half and give the squad a chance to rebound.
Kansas will face an elimination bout with the No. 6-ranked and No. 2 seeded TCU Horned Frogs on Friday, May 26 with a 7 p.m. first pitch at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. Fans can watch the game on Fox College Sports, Fox Sports Southwest plus and Fox Sports Midwest plus, or tune to the Jayhawk Radio Network on KLWN 1320 AM/101.7 FM for an audio broadcast.
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