Pitching, defensive woes plague Kansas in loss to No. 6 TCU
OKLAHOMA CITY – The No. 6-ranked TCU Horned Frogs took advantage of five walks and a costly error to eliminate the Kansas baseball team from the 2017 Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship, 6-0, Friday night at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
The majority of those free passes came when Kansas starter Sean Rackoski (5-6) walked the bases loaded on 14 pitches to start the game, and then the veteran Horned Frogs (41-15) took advantage. The four-run dagger of an inning featured two, two-run choppers over Jayhawk third baseman David Kyriacou’s head. Two of those runs could have been eliminated, however, had junior shortstop Matt McLaughlin come up with a double play ball.
With the sacks jacked, Rackoski forced TCU’s Elliott Barzilli to ground a routine six-three double play ball up the middle. McLaughlin couldn’t quite make a decision whether to flip the ball to freshman second baseman James Cosentino or take it himself, and the ball rolled out of his glove and everyone was safe.
The second two-run single followed that play, and Kansas (30-28) made a call to its bullpen with just one out in the first and trailing, 4-0.
That four-run first inning is all that Horned Frog hurler Brian Howard (9-3) needed as he went on to pitch a complete-game shutout featuring 12 strikeouts and zero walks.
“I thought the performance of Brian Howard tonight was really special,” head coach Ritch Price said. “You look at the 12 strikeouts and no walks; he absolutely dominated our lineup tonight. I know from the six-hole on down we didn’t have a base hit.”
The Jayhawks had prime opportunities against Howard to chip into that TCU lead, having at least one base runner on in each of the first five innings. The best chance came in the top of the fourth when sophomore left fielder Devin Foyle and freshman designated hitter Jaxx Groshans led off with back-to-back singles.
Howard calmed down and managed to punch out the next three Kansas hitters to get out of the jam. Following that frame, Howard didn’t allow a base knock until a pinch-hit single in the top of the ninth by Kansas sophomore Ty Denzer.
If ever there was a shining moment for Kansas in a game where it failed to score a run, it came when senior closer Stephen Villines took the mound at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, quite possibly, for the last time. The sidearm hurler toed the rubber for the 114th time of his four-year career to pitch the eighth inning. Villines battled emotion to pitch a scoreless frame, striking out two batters in the process.
“The past four years have been an unbelievable blessing for sure,” Villines said. “You see after the game, I’m still kind of tearing up. It’s for those guys every day going out on the field and in the clubhouse. It’s for those guys, and that’s what makes it special. It’s for the guys on the team.”
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Fourteen pitches, 12 balls: Redshirt-junior righty Sean Rackoski walked the bases loaded on 14 pitches to start his outing against TCU. All three of those Horned Frogs came around to score and amounted to a four-run first inning that Kansas couldn’t recover from.
First-inning error: Junior shortstop Matt McLaughlin booted a routine six-three double play ball that could have held TCU to just two runs in the first inning. However, that play loaded the bases and the Horned Frogs tacked on two other runs to jump out to an early 4-0 lead.
The fate of the remainder of Kansas’ season now rests in the hands of the NCAA Selection Committee as the Jayhawks have a RPI sitting in the bubble range. That decision will be made on Monday, May 29.
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