LAWRENCE, Kan. – Matched against the top offense in the Big 12 Conference, the Oklahoma pitching staff managed to cool off the hot Kansas bats, as the Jayhawks fell to the Sooners, 2-1, Saturday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.
With a depleted bullpen from Friday night’s contest, the Jayhawks (17-10, 2-3 Big 12) relied on the arm of junior righty Robert Kahana to give them a quality start deep into the game. The hurler tossed six and one-third innings, giving up two runs off six hits and two walks. Freshman side-armer Stephen Villines saw two and two-thirds innings of action, giving up just two hits to the Sooners (20-8, 4-1 Big 12).
Both clubs entered the weekend averaging seven runs per game, however, Saturday afternoon the squads combined for three runs for the second-straight time. Junior right fielder Connor McKay and junior shortstop Justin Protacio led all KU hitters with 2-for-4 efforts at the plate, while Protacio scored the only run for the Jayhawks.
Protacio wasted no time to try and get the Kansas offense moving, leading the game off with a single through the left side before junior left fielder Michael Suiter drew the one-out walk. However, back-to-back strikeouts by Oklahoma starter Adam Choplick (3-1) kept KU from scoring early in the first inning.
The Jayhawks struck first in the third, thanks to a sacrifice fly by Suiter to put Kansas on top, 1-0. Protacio sparked the inning with a one-out single to left field, before advancing to third on an OU error, after a sacrifice bunt by sophomore second baseman Colby Wright, who reached first on the errant throw. Suiter then laced on to deep centerfield to drive in the lone run for KU.
The Sooners answered back quickly in the top of the fourth with a two-run inning of their own. Third baseman Sheldon Neuse led off the frame with a single through the left side, before catcher Anthony Hermelyn doubled down the left field line. With runners on second and third, right fielder Hunter Haley drove one to deep right field for the sacrifice fly, tying the game up, 1-1. Designated hitter Austin O’Brien followed with an RBI-ground out, giving OU the lead, 2-1.
Kansas had its best opportunity to tie the game back up in the sixth inning. Wright led off with a walk, before Suiter and McKay followed with back-to-back fly outs. With two down, junior designated hitter Dakota Smith singled to left field, before senior centerfielder Tucker Tharp loaded the bases after being hit by a pitch. However, junior first baseman Blair Beck missed timed the fastball and popped one straight up to OU second baseman Keach Ballard to end the KU threat.
Oklahoma threatened again in the seventh inning after first baseman Niko Buentello led off with a ground-rule double over the wall in right center. Shortstop Hector Lorenzana laid down the sacrifice bunt, moving pinch runner Craig Aikin to third with one out. Centerfielder Taylor Alspaugh followed with a four-pitch walk, ending Kahana’s day and putting runners at the corners for the Big 12 hits leader and OU left fielder Mac James.
With a tall task ahead of him to keep the game close, KU reliever Villines tossed the 0-1 pitch inside to James, forcing him to roll it over for the double play and end the inning with the same score it started with, 2-1.
Both bullpens managed to shut down the offensive production the remainder of the game, as the teams combined for no runs off three hits the final two innings.
The Jayhawks and Sooners face off one final time Sunday, March 30 in the conference series finale. The game is set to begin at 1 p.m. and can be seen on the Jayhawk Television Network and on ESPN3 outside the state of Kansas.