Kansas Falls in Season Finale at No. 12 Oklahoma State, 8-1
STILLWATER, Okla. – Junior reliever Stephen Villines matched a career-high six innings pitched, as the Kansas baseball team fell short to No. 12 Oklahoma State, 8-1, Saturday afternoon at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.
Villines gave the Jayhawks (20-35-1, 6-17 Big 12) one of the best performances of his career through the first five innings of relief retiring 14 of the 15 Cowboys he faced until the eighth inning. Oklahoma State used a little Senior Day magic to score three runs off Villines and end his bid at a perfect six frames.
“He has had a great year, he has been very special,” head coach Ritch Price said. “You have to be a baseball player to understand how hard his job is and then to extend him more than one inning like we have had to do the last few times he has pitched, makes his job even harder. He is a special young man.”
Price had to call to his ace arm out of the bullpen after Kansas starter sophomore lefty Blake Weiman (2-7) got knocked around for five runs in one-plus innings. The southpaw couldn’t register an out in the second and exited the game after giving up a two-run home run. Freshman Zack Leban bridged the gap to Villines in the second with a 14-pitch performance to limit the damage to that home run.
Villines toed the rubber to start the third and sat down the next six batters in order until a lead-off single in the fifth. He was able to erase that with a six-four-three double play and then retired the next six batters in a row until the eighth inning. His six-inning performance matched a career high set earlier this month when he tossed six scoreless against then-No. 8 Texas Tech (May 8).
Oklahoma State needed just the three-run first inning to pull away with the victory as the Cowboy pitching staff lived up to its hype of being the best in the Big 12 Conference after striking out 14 Jayhawks. How fitting that KU’s lone hit and run scored came from senior second baseman Colby Wright in his final collegiate game. Wright hit a one-out triple in the second inning to set the table for KU’s only score of the game. Sophomore shortstop Matt McLaughlin lifted a deep fly ball to right field and Wright touched home easily on the sacrifice fly.
“They completely dominated us,” Price said. “Every guy they brought out of the bullpen spun their breaking ball for a strike and dominated our guys. But how about Wright? He had a great year. I am proud of him. I am proud to see him end his career on a positive season. When it is all said and done, he ended up having an outstanding senior season.”
That run by Wright ended up cutting the early deficit down to two runs after the Cowboy three-spot in the first inning. However, Weiman gave up the two-run home run in the bottom half of the frame and Kansas couldn’t recover. OSU went on to retire 19 of 21 KU hitters it faced with the only two base runners coming by way of a walk.
With the series loss at Oklahoma State, Kansas is eliminated from the Big 12 Championship, as the top-eight teams in the conference earn qualification. The Jayhawks have qualified for conference postseason play eight of the 14 years Price has held the reins of the program and in three of those years, the NCAA tournament. Prior to 2003 when Price took over, KU had missed the Big 12 Championship six-straight years from 1997-2002 and earned a bid to the NCAA tournament twice since its inaugural year in 1947.
The 2016 senior class capped off four-year careers that included 112 wins, 14 against the national top-25, played for the Big 12 Championship tournament title in 2013, qualified for the program’s fifth-ever NCAA Tournament in 2014, won a school-record 10-straight Big 12 games and finished the 2014 season with its highest finish in Big 12 history at third. In addition, the class posted the three-highest team fielding percentages in school history in 2012 (.977), 2015 (.974) and 2013 (.973), respectively.
“They have some really good accomplishments to be proud of,” Price said. “The last couple years have been really tough, but they have played hard and never quit, and I am proud of them for that. Hopefully now those young men will graduate and be prepared to be successful in the rest of their lives.”
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