OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Kansas senior starter Thomas Taylor limited No. 3-seed West Virginia to four hits, pitched into the eighth inning, and retired 18 Mountaineers in a row at one point while helping sixth-seeded Kansas snap a six-game losing streak and open the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship with a 7-6 win at Bricktown Ballpark Thursday night.
Taylor, who pitched eight shutout innings in a no-decision at Utah Saturday, threw well enough to give Kansas (32-24) its first win in 15 days and avenge a regular-season series sweep at the hands of the Mountaineers (31-26). After giving up a single run in the second inning, Taylor retired 18 straight West Virginia batters while his offense tallied 12 hits – the most against an NCAA Division I opponent in nearly two months – and plated six runs.
“I struggled with my command the first couple of innings – I think I was trying to throw a little too hard,” Taylor said. “After that, I settled down and tried to pitch to contact. Earlier in the year, we played them and they swung the bat a lot early and they did that again tonight. I just tried to pitch to contact and let the defense do a lot of work.”
The win moved Kansas to 1-0 in its pool, while West Virginia dropped to 0-1. (2)Oklahoma State and (7)TCU – the other two members of Pool Two were scheduled to play late Thursday night. Kansas will play Oklahoma State at 7:30 p.m. Friday and TCU at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, with the top team out of the pool advancing to Sunday’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship game at 1 p.m.
Kansas scored two runs in the top of the first before Taylor (6-2) even threw his first pitch. The Jayhawks pushed two across on West Virginia starter Dan Dierdorff (4-8), manufacturing its first run with two sacrifices after a leadoff double by Justin Protacio. Kevin Kuntz reached on the first sacrifice attempt as WVU tried to get the lead runner at third, then Protacio scored on a squeeze bunt by Suiter, who reached first as the ball was thrown away by the pitcher. Dakota Smith singled through the left side to score the second run before Dierdorff could escape the top half.
Taylor worked around a leadoff single in the first to give Kansas its first lead over West Virginia in 30 innings played this season. He gave up another leadoff single to start the second but WVU shortstop Michael Constantini made the Overland Park, Kan., native pay with an RBI double. That’s when it appeared Taylor flipped a switch and shutdown the Mountaineers. With two men in scoring position, he got Bobby Boyd to pop out just in front of home plate then struck out Ryan McBroom to end the frame.
Taylor sat down 16 more in order, using just 35 pitches to get through innings three through seven, and got another pair of runs in both the seventh and eighth as the Jayhawks ran out to a 6-1 lead. He struck out Constantini to start the eighth, his fourth strikeout of the game, before plunking Bobby Boyd to end the streak and was lifted after walking Brady Wilson.
Kansas closer and Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, Jordan Piché gave back a run and loaded the bases by allowing back-to-back hits. The Big 12 saves leader stared face-to-face with the Big 12’s home run leader Ryan McBroom, and after falling into a 3-0 hole, Piché watch the slugger line out to Protacio at second, starting a 6-4 double play.
“It was huge,” Kansas head coach Ritch Price said. “They had two good at-bats in a row, bases loaded, when he lined into that double play. We got beat in Utah on Monday on three infield singles with two outs. We lost in 13 (innings) – the ball didn’t get out of the infield – on three swinging bunts. I kind of think the law of averages helped us out a little bit, that kid smoked that baseball.”
The Jayhawks added another run the top of the ninth as Suiter scored on a wild pitch, then Piché worked a scoreless bottom half to seal the win.
Protacio, Kuntz, Suiter and Tucker Tharp all collected two hits for the Jayhawks. Kuntz was 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored, and contributed a pair of sacrifice hits to extend his school-record, and nation-leading total to 28. Suiter and Tharp each drove in two runs, and catcher Ka’iana Eldredge scored twice. Eight of KU’s nine batters recorded hits in the game.
West Virginia, which rolled the dice by saving Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Harrison Musgrave for a potential Friday match-up with TCU, was led in batting by Jacob Rice, who went 2-for-4 with one of the team’s two RBI. Dierdorff struck out five Jayhawks while not issuing a walk and relievers Josh Harlow and Corey Holmes each pitched an inning of relief.