LAWRENCE, Kan. – Senior first baseman Mariah Montgomery’s RBI single in the bottom of the seventh put the game-tying run on third, but Baylor All-American Whitney Canion halted the Kansas rally with a strikeout to defeat Kansas, 5-4, Sunday afternoon at Arrocha Ballpark.
Kansas (30-15, 5-7) and No. 21/14 Baylor (37-13, 8-6) set the stage for a big game as Saturday’s doubleheader ended with a KU walk-off home run to tie the series at a game apiece, leaving Sunday as the decider. Unfortunately, fluke plays and faulty defense haunted both teams. Of the nine combined runs between the two squads, only four of them were earned - a rarity for the first and third-best fielding teams in the Big 12.
“Defensively, we have to be stronger than that,” head coach Megan Smith said. “We have been all year. This weekend, we lost our minds defensively and just didn’t play the game we normally do. That’s the frustrating part.”
Facing a 5-1 deficit heading into their final at bat, the Jayhawks benefited from a leadoff walk to senior left fielder Maggie Hull and a throwing error that allowed freshman catcher Alex Hugo to join her on base. Freshman shortstop Chaley Brickey loaded the bases with a single to left, which brought up KU’s 2013 RBI leader, sophomore Maddie Stein.
An epitome of the crazy day, Stein popped up a pitch just a few feet in front of home plate, giving catcher Clare Hosack enough room to dive and tip the ball off the edge of her glove and spin it wildly into the dugout. A ball in the dugout awards the base runners two bases automatically, bringing home Hull and Hugo to narrow the gap, 5-3.
Montgomery then stepped up and delivered her second RBI single of the day to drive in Brickey and move pinch runner Elsa Moyer to third base, 60 feet away from tying the game. Canion (21-6) buckled down, however, and collected her fifth strikeout of the game to seal the Baylor victory.
“Definitely not the sharpest of games from either of us,” Smith said. “I’m excited about the fight from our team in the last inning, but I wish that fight had been there early on.”
Montgomery led the Jayhawk offense, going 3-for-3 with two RBIs and a walk. Stein was credited with the other pair of RBIs and a hit, while redshirt junior centerfielder Alex Jones went 2-for-4.
In the circle, freshman Kelsey Kessler (8-6) threw her second-consecutive complete game. She was solid despite the loss, giving up just three earned runs of the five scored on six hits. Kessler struck out five and walked two.
Baylor built its lead with strange plays throughout the afternoon. A wild pitch brought home the first run of the game in the top of the third before Montgomery tied it up with her first RBI single of the game in the bottom of the fourth.
After Kessler stranded two in the fourth, she was working around a one-out double in the fifth when a bad throw back to the circle returned the lead to the Bears, 2-1. A solo home run by right fielder Kaitlyn Thumann marked one of the few genuine scoring plays of the game, pushing Baylor’s lead to 3-1.
A walk was sandwiched between the first two outs for Kessler in the top of the seventh. A single followed by back-to-back errors was enough room for two more runs to score, landing at the 5-1 deficit the Jayhawks faced before their rally came up short in the bottom of the seventh.
Montgomery’s pair of RBIs brings her career total to 132, three shy of tying the KU career record of 135 (Maggie Hull, Liz Kocon).
Prior to the game, Smith’s five-year old son, Cooper, threw out the ceremonial first pitch in honor of his father and Smith’s late husband, Paul Buske, who lost his battle with kidney cancer in June of 2011. Sunday’s Jayhawks for a Cure orange game honored fighters, survivors and victims of kidney cancer.
Kansas will continue its homestand on Wednesday, May 1, when the Jayhawks welcome Wichita State to Arrocha Ballpark for a single game at 6 p.m.