Late Inning Walks Prove Costly For Jayhawks, Fall To Sooners

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Senior right-handed closer Jordan Piche’ gave up a season-high two walks, as the Kansas baseball team fell to Oklahoma, 2-1, Friday night at Hoglund Ballpark.

The Jayhawks (17-9, 2-2 Big 12) called upon their ace out of the pen, Piche’ (3-2), with one out and the bases loaded in the eighth inning. In a crucial situation, Piche’ dug in and struck out the first OU (19-8, 3-1 Big 12) batter he faced, before walking in the tying run on the next at bat.

Kansas stuck with Piche’ into the ninth, where he surrendered a two-out walk to Sooner centerfielder Craig Aikin, who scored the winning run after back-to-back singles by right fielder Hunter Haley and third baseman Sheldon Neuse.

Junior third baseman Aaron Hernandez led all Jayhawks with a 2-for-3 effort at the plate, including an RBI-double in the seventh inning for a brief KU lead. Junior shortstop Justin Protacio, junior right fielder Connor McKay and senior catcher Ka’iana Eldredge each added a hit of their own to round out Kansas’ five-hit total on the night.

Junior lefty Wes Benjamin started on the bump for KU and lasted just two and two-thirds innings, exiting the game with a strain in his left forearm. The Jayhawks then called upon their bullpen to keep them in the game.

Freshmen righties Stephen Villines and Jon Hander combined for three and one-third innings, holding the Sooners both hitless and scoreless. Junior righty Taylor Rappaport followed in line for the seventh inning, giving up just one hit, before junior designated hitter and right handed pitcher Dakota Smith took over. Smith lasted just one-third of an inning, allowing one run off one hit and a walk after recording one strikeout.

KU then called upon Piche’ to close out the game, where he allowed one run off two hits and two walks, striking out three in the process.

Kansas opened the game in the first with an opportunity to take an early lead, as Protacio led the game off with a walk, reaching base safely in his 36th-consecutive game. Sophomore second baseman Colby Wright sacrificed Protacio to second, before junior left fielder Michael Suiter drew another walk. However back-to-back fly outs by McKay and Smith stranded the duo and halted KU’s scoring chances.

After six-straight scoreless innings, the Jayhawks finally put a run on the board in the seventh. Eldredge smoked a two-out single up the middle to extend the inning for the hot bat of Hernandez, who blasted a double down the right field line. Eldredge scored all the way from first, giving KU the slight advantage, 1-0.

Oklahoma answered in the eighth after Haley led off the inning with a hit by pitch. Neuse followed with a single to right field, before left fielder Mac James drew the one-out walk to load the bases. KU brought in Piche’ to close out the inning.

Piche’ struck out the first batter he faced, first baseman Anthony Hermelyn, before delivering the two-out RBI-walk to designated hitter Austin O’Brien on six pitches.

The Jayhawks had another prime opportunity in the eighth after Suiter reached base on an error to start the inning. Senior centerfielder Tucker Tharp drew the two-out walk to put runners at first and second for junior first baseman Ryan Pidhaichuk, who reached on a hit by pitch.

With bases loaded and two outs, Eldredge walked to the plate to face OU’s closer, Ralph Garza (4-0). Eldredge battled to a full count, where he went down swinging, stranding all three KU runners on base.

Piche’ got two quick outs in the ninth thanks to a strikeout by Taylor Alspaugh and a ground out by Keach Ballard. However on the next at bat, Piche’ gave up the five-pitch walk to Aikin, who came around to score and give Oklahoma its first lead of the game, 2-1, one it never surrendered.

The two teams continue the conference series Saturday, March 29, with game two of the three-game set. First pitch is set for 2 p.m.

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