LAWRENCE, Kan. – Three walks, two passed balls and one error leads to a three-run seventh inning for Grand Canyon, as the Kansas baseball team fell short, 5-3, Tuesday night at Hoglund Ballpark.
The Jayhawks (22-16) entered the seventh inning with a 3-2 lead before the Antelopes (19-15) capitalized on six KU miscues to take the two-run advantage and win away from Kansas.
“Tonight is a classic example of taking a step backwards,” head coach Ritch Price said. “They got six hits and scored five runs, that is almost mathematically impossible to do. Obviously we walked some guys and made two crucial errors and got to their best hitter who railed the ball with two outs to take the lead. That is what happens when you don’t take care of the baseball defensively and you walk guys at crucial times to get to their best hitters.”
Kansas entered the seventh inning with a one-run lead, but then the wheels fell off. Junior righty Dakota Smith (1-2), who came on in relief for starter Drew Morovick in the sixth inning, got the quick strikeout to start the frame, before surrendering back-to-back walks.
Two passed balls later by senior catcher Ka’iana Eldredge and a throwing error by junior third baseman Aaron Hernandez forced Price to make a move to the bullpen to freshman closer Stephen Villines. The side-armer got the quick ground out, before giving up a walk and a base knock to give the lead back to the Lopes, 5-3.
“We walk the seven guy, then we walk the eight guy and then made a crucial error,” Price said. “If that wasn’t enough we walked the two guy after a fielder’s choice to bring up their best hitter with two outs. They are a good team. They are built on speed and on offensive execution and playing defense. They did exactly what their scouting report said they would do, they played well.”
Three Jayhawks boasted multiple-hit performances, as junior left fielder Michael Suiter (2-for-4), senior centerfielder Tucker Tharp (2-for-3) and Smith (2-for-4) led the offensive charge. In addition, all three KU runs were scored via the sacrifice fly, off the bats of sophomore second baseman Colby Wright, junior first baseman Blair Beck and Suiter.
The Antelopes jumped out to the early lead in the first inning, after a rocky first frame by Morovick. GCU left fielder David Walker drew the lead off walk, before advancing to second on the one-out single by second baseman Chad De La Guerra. A KU error and a single by first baseman Michael Pomeroy broke open the scoring and put the Lopes on top, 1-0.
Grand Canyon chalked another run up on the board in the third inning after De La Guerra reached base with a one-out triple down the right field line. He scored on a sacrifice fly by catcher Humberto Aranda to increase the Antelope lead, 2-0.
Kansas saw its first number grace the scoreboard in the home half of the third, thanks to back-to-back base knocks by Hernandez and Eldredge to start the inning. Hernandez singled to centerfield, before Eldredge doubled to the right center gap. Then with one down, Wright drove one deep to left field for the sac fly to cut the GCU lead in half, 2-1.
The Jayhawks added two more runs, one in the fifth and one in the sixth, before giving three runs right back to Grand Canyon in the top half of the seventh.
Kansas saw its best opportunity to mount a comeback in the eighth inning, after Smith led off with a double to left field. Tharp followed with a hit by pitch to put runners at first and second and no outs for junior Ryan Pidhaichuk. However, a missed bunt by Pidhaichuk caught Smith off guard at second base and he was picked off by Aranda for the first out of the frame. Pidhaichuk then lined out on the next pitch to take the wind out of the sails for KU.
The Lopes’ reliever, Malcolm Purdy (4-2), held Kansas to just two hits in the final four innings, while throwing up zeroes in the last three frames to be credited with the win.
The two squads will meet once more for game two of the midweek series, Wednesday, April 16 at Hoglund Ballpark. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. and can be seen in its entirety on ESPN3.