OKLAHOMA CITY — After three days of upsets, the Kansas baseball team’s run at the Big 12 tournament finally came to an end Sunday at Bricktown Ballpark.
By KELLIS ROBINETT
The Kansas City Star
The Jayhawks were hoping to finish the weekend with one last victory and a celebration. They were playing in the conference championship game for the first time in seven years, and they were one win away from clinching an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
But Oklahoma, aided by a large, friendly crowd, dashed those dreams with a convincing 7-2 victory and claimed its first tournament championship since 1997.
The Sooners commemorated the moment by mobbing each other near the pitcher’s mound and taking pictures with their newest trophy.
For Kansas, it was a disappointing scene to watch. It entered the tournament with virtually no chance of receiving an at-large bid to the postseason. They had to win the tournament to extend their season. They put forth a noble effort, but didn’t have enough left to take down the fourth-seeded Sooners.
They will wait to see if they receive a invitation to the NCAA Tournament, which will be announced Monday morning. Their chances are slim.
“I thought we did everything we could possibly do without winning today and earning an automatic berth,” Kansas coach Ritch Price said. “You could make a really good case for us. We walk in here, we win three games. We beat Oklahoma State three out of four. If you add up all the league records we have a better league record than they do, too, in conference.
“At the same time it’s what you’ve done over the course of the entire season, as well. The thought that is hard for me is … if we only get three teams in the tournament out of this conference that is a really hard concept for me. The parity in this league is unbelievable.”
That showed when none of the top three seeded teams reached Sunday’s final.
When Kansas starter Frank Duncan hit Max White with a pitch just two outs into the game, Oklahoma strung together a walk and two singles, while also taking advantage of a passed ball to take an early 3-0 lead.
Kansas answered with a run in the bottom half of the inning and appeared poised to get back in the game. But when Matt Oberste launched a two-run homer over the left-field wall in the fifth inning to give Oklahoma a 5-1 advantage, the light-hitting Jayhawks couldn’t recover.
“One of the keys for us to be successful is not to get down 5-1,” Price said. “When we get that far behind, it is going to be hard for us to come back.”
Kansas didn’t go down easy, with Tanner Poppe throwing five scoreless innings and Dakota Smith scoring in the fifth inning.
If not for Oklahoma reliever Jacob Evans, who allowed four hits and one run over five innings, catching a line drive from Kevin Kuntz with two outs in the fifth, things might have been different.
“I thought they key to the game was their defense to be honest with you guys,” Price said. “We hit four or five balls right on the button. We were down 5-2 with runners at second and third and hit a line drive back to the box that the pitcher snared. That was the biggest play of the game. It would have been 5-4 and we would have still had a chance.”
Instead, the Sooners were on cruise control.
Every time Kansas hit the ball hard — and it made solid contact throughout the game — someone was there to make a catch. The Sooners added two insurance runs in the ninth and reliever Kyle Hayes slammed the door on his second game in two days.
“I definitely felt like we were in it the whole way,” Kansas left fielder Michael Suiter said. “That last inning kind of blew up on us a little bit. But I thought we had a great shot. Our team chemistry was really great coming off our sweep from Utah and we bounced back and had some good team wins.”
That was enough to make it a successful tournament. But one more win would have made it special.
“Coming into the tournament we had lost six straight,” Poppe said. “We wanted to get past that and have a good tournament. Obviously, we made a run. That’s all you can do.”