Jayhawks Drop Opener to OU on Walkoff Bomb, 7-6
NORMAN, Okla. – Sophomore closer Stephen Villines couldn’t hold on to a four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning, as the Kansas baseball team fell at the hands of an Oklahoma walk-off home run, 7-6, Thursday night in a 10-inning affair at L. Dale Mitchell Park.
The sidearm hurler came on in the ninth with the Jayhawks (11-18, 1-3 Big 12) ahead, 6-2. The Sooners (20-12, 4-3 Big 12) rallied and hit four straight singles, including three by pinch hitters, before Villines gave up a sacrifice fly and then a two-run double to OU centerfielder Craig Aikin to knot the game up, 6-6.
Interestingly enough, the Sooner that started the rally in the bottom of the ninth, Jacob Evans (1-0), ran out to the hill in the top of the 10th inning and sat the Jayhawks down in order, only to lead things off in the home half of the frame. KU skipper Ritch Price stuck with Villines (1-2) and Evans took him deep to right field to walk it off for the Sooners and give Kansas its first extra-inning loss of the season.
“This is one of the toughest losses we have had since I have been at Kansas,” Price said. “We completely dominated the game to that point, but you have to get all 27 outs. Villines is one of the best guys in the country. They just really got after him and hit the ball well.”
Take away the ninth inning, and KU dominated the rest of the game, large in part by junior lefty Ben Krauth, who tossed a career high seven and two-thirds innings. The southpaw settled in after a two-run first and threw six and two-thirds scoreless innings, giving up seven hits and two walks in the process.
“I tip my cap to Krauth,” Price said. “He threw a phenomenal baseball game. They have a really good offensive club and to see the numbers he put up speaks volumes to his performance.”
Offensively, Kansas picked up where it left off last night in Wichita and belted 12 hits en route to scoring six runs. Freshman third baseman Matt McLaughlin (2-for-3) and sophomore centerfielder Joven Afenir (2-for-5) posted the fourth multi-hit games for themselves in the last five while sophomore catcher Michael Tinsley paced the squad with three hits and three RBIs.
Kansas rode the momentum of last night’s come-back win into the first inning and scored a quick three runs to get things started. Senior shortstop Justin Protacio drew the leadoff walk before senior left fielder Connor McKay forced an OU error in the four-hole to get two runners on base with no outs. Senior right fielder Dakota Smith kept the pressure on and laid down the bunt-single to load the bases for Tinsley.
The catcher laced his 13th double of the season into the right-center gap driving in Protacio and McKay to take a quick two-run advantage. Afenir forced another Oklahoma error, this time by first baseman Anthony Hermelyn, to put runners on the corners for senior designated hitter Blair Beck, who snapped an 11-game hitting streak with his 0-for-2 performance at the dish. Beck drove one deep to center for the sacrifice fly and push KU’s lead to three, 3-0.
The Sooners answered back in the home half after Hermelyn and Shelden Neuse posted back-to-back two-out hits to drive in two runs and cut the Jayhawks’ lead, 3-2.
Krauth dug in and kept the aggressive Sooner hitters off balance through the next six and two-thirds innings, mixing his off speed and spotting his fastball. He induced 12 groundball outs and six fly outs to go along with his four punch-outs in the 114-pitch effort.
“I felt good tonight,” Krauth said. “I was filling up the zone well and the defense played awesome behind me. Our offense was pretty much firing on all cylinders. Everything felt really good. We were able to get into a rhythm and let them almost beat themselves.”
The game plan worked through eight innings, until Oklahoma sent in three pinch hitters to face Villines in the ninth. The closer gave up four-straight hits and sac fly before Aikin doubled down the left field line to tie it up and give the Sooners a chance at the win, which Evans took full advantage of with the walk off bomb in the 10th.
“It is tough,” Krauth said. “You try to stay as even as you can throughout the game. We put up big numbers in the first, but they came right back at us. We knew from the start it was going to be a brawl. Its baseball; that’s how it goes.”
Kansas heads back to the yard Friday, April 3, for game two of the conference series against the Sooners. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. and can be seen on FOX College Sports Pacific.
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