OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Kansas starter Robert Kahana scattered four hits over six scoreless innings and combined with three other Jayhawk pitchers to shut-out TCU, 4-0, at Bricktown Ballpark late Saturday night and clinched a spot in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship Game against Oklahoma Sunday. The sixth-seeded Jayhawks will make their second Big 12 title game appearance, having previously won as the No. 6 seed in 2006.
Kahana (5-1) and relievers Drew Morovick, Junior Mustain, Jordan Piche’ combined to limit the Horned Frogs to six hits while logging the third shutout of this year’s tournament and just the 12th in Big 12 Tournament history. The shutout was also the ninth for this year’s pitching staff, tying the Kansas single season record set in 1978.
The Jayhawks’ pitching effort most certainly wasn’t perfect as TCU stranded 11 runners throughout the game, but the Kansas arms found a way to make the pitches when they had to. Kansas retired the side in order just twice, with Kahana mowing down TCU in the second and Piche’ following suit in the eighth. Twice, the Jayhawks wriggled out of bases loaded jams, first with Kahana pitching in the fourth, then again in the seventh when Morovick, Mustain and Piche’ all seeing time.
“Obviously, I’m thrilled with the way our kids played tonight,” Kansas head coach Ritch Price said. “I think that anytime you are trying to accomplish something special and get yourself to a championship in such a good conference, like the Big 12, it starts with your starting pitching. I thought Robert Kahana grinded out six good innings for us. He got into trouble, but made some big pitches to leave runners stranded on base.”
Kansas scratched across a single run in the third inning on an RBI single by Kevin Kuntz, then looked to add more in the sixth with runners at the corners and nobody out, but only managed to score one more on a wild pitch. Leading 2-0 in the top of the seventh, Morovick got two quick outs before the Horned Frogs singled and walked to put two men on. Mustain entered the game and couldn’t stop the surge, walking Jantzen Witte to load the bases before Kansas looked to Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and National Stopper of the Year candidate Piche’ to escape the jam. Piche’ used two pitches to get a flyout to center and ended the threat.
A day after KU outfielder Tucker Tharp hit his first home run of the season to break a tie, fellow Jayhawk outfielder Michael Suiter launched his first home run of the year in the bottom of the seventh – a two-run blast to left – to give Kansas a 4-0 advantage.
Piche’, pitching for the third time in three days, struck out two while sitting TCU down in order in the eighth, then worked around a leadoff single in the ninth to record his Big 12-leading 12th save.
Ka’iana Eldredge went 2-for-4 at the plate and scored the Jayhawks’ first run. Suiter’s home run was his only hit of the game, but marked the fifth game in a row that he’s knocked a base hit, including all three Big 12 Tournament games. Alex DeLeon went 1-for-3 and doubled off the wall in right field. In addition to driving in Eldredge, Kuntz also scored a run, drew two walks and extended his school record for single-season sacrifice hits with his 29th – a number that also leads the nation.
TCU’s Andrew Mitchell was tagged with the loss despite allowing just two hits in 5.0 innings. Mitchell struck out three and gave up the run in the third. Cody Jones tallied half of TCU’s six hits, going 3-for-5 at the plate.
The Jayhawks, who stormed through Pool Two with a 3-0 record and wins over (3)West Virginia, (2)Oklahoma State and (7)TCU, will meet No. 4 seed Oklahoma, which went undefeated in Pool One, including an extra-inning win over top-seed Kansas State earlier Saturday. The finale will determine the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament and will be televised on FSN.
“I think the biggest thing is to enjoy the moment,” Price said. “Anytime you have a chance to win a championship, the players have to live for the opportunity and embrace it. Rather than putting pressure on yourself, you have to go out there and enjoy it. We have had some success in these kinds of games in the past when going about it with that kind of process.”
Kansas won the Big 12 Tournament Championship in 2006, as the Jayhawks defeated Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Nebraska, 9-7 in the championship game, to go 4-0 and advance to the NCAA Tournament. Kansas is 3-3 against OU in conference tournament play, including a 1-1 mark in Big 12 Tournament games.