OKLAHOMA CITY – Senior hurler Jordan Piche’ and senior centerfielder Tucker Tharp highlighted career days, as the Kansas baseball team fell to West Virginia, 10-9, Wednesday afternoon at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
A combined 19 runs and 26 hits capped off by a Big 12 Championship record of seven doubles in a game by the Jayhawks (34-23) led to a wild finish as West Virginia (28-24) erased a six-run deficit in the seventh inning with an eight-spot to steal the game away from KU.
“I congratulate West Virginia,” head coach Ritch Price said. “We felt really good about the score late in the game, but give credit to West Virginia for battling back.”
Piche’ was an absolute machine through the first six innings, striking out a career-high 11 batters. His only blemish, besides a two-run first after a KU error, were the three runners left on base in the seventh after a single and back-to-back walks.
“We put up the two four-spots back-to-back and I think Jordan sat in the dugout quite a while,” Price said. “He went back out there and got behind the first guy and then he hits a 2-0 fastball for a base hit. Then we walked two guys with one out and it ran his pitch count up over 100 pitches.”
“You sit there and let your body rest a little too much and you start to tighten up,” Piche’ added. “You still have to go out there and compete and throw strikes. It is unfortunate that it didn’t happen and you have to trust your bullpen in that situation. It’s unfortunate that the eight-spot happened as a result.”
Although on the wrong end of the stick, Kansas has a lot to hang its hat on as the Jayhawks pounded out 13 hits, including nine off WVU starter Harrison Musgrave. KU tied a championship record with seven doubles led by the perfect 4-for-4 performance at the dish by Tharp. The centerfielder added two walks and drove in three runs, scorching the ball over all-conference performer and WVU’s centerfielder Bobby Boyd’s head twice in the process.
“I think he (Boyd) might be the fastest centerfielder in the league – he was a first teamer,” Tharp said. “When you hit the ball there, you expect him to get there. In this ballpark, the wind blows South and if you get the ball up in the air, it will keep going. I was a little surprised that he didn’t get to those balls, but at the same time, very fortunate that they did get down. He is a really good player.”
Fellow outfielder and cleanup man Dakota Smith also boasted a multi-hit and multi-RBI performance at the plate, slugging three hits, including a double, with two RBIs and three runs scored.
“I think our guys did a really good job at taking the fastball away,” Price said. “We were able to be on time with the fastball and be physical. Tucker Tharp had some great at bats as did Dakota Smith and both those guys are fastball hitters.”
With all that offense and a six-run lead in the seventh inning, Price called to the bullpen to bring in junior righty Drew Morovick (9-4) with one out and the bases loaded. After inducing the fielder’s choice, Morovick gave up four-straight two-out hits, including back-to-back doubles, allowing the Mountaineers to score five runs before Kansas made another move to the pen to bring in freshman closer Stephen Villines.
On the first pitch of the first batter Villines faced with two runners on, WVU designated hitter Jackson Cramer dropped the hammer and launched a three-run bomb over the wall in right field to close out the eight-run inning and put the final dagger in the hopes of a Kansas win.
“It is tough to see us go down like that – it hurts,” Piche’ said. “We need to come out tomorrow and get after it.”
Kansas rallied for a run in the bottom of the eighth inning, but stranded the bases loaded. The Jayhawks rallied again in the ninth to get two runners on with two outs, but junior designated hitter Connor McKay flew out to end the game and strand both Jayhawks for a total of 15 runners left on base for KU.
Junior left fielder Michael Suiter was the only other player with a multiple-hit performance, as he finished the day 2-for-6 with an RBI and two runs scored.
Kansas continues play at the 2014 Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship Thursday, May 22, and will play the loser of TCU vs. Baylor at 9 a.m. Fans can watch the game live on FOX College Sports or tune in to Jayhawk Digital Passport via KUAthletics.com/Showcase.