By Blake Schuster
Twice in Kansas’ 8-1 loss to Oklahoma the Jayhawks had the Sooners in damage control — and both times the Jayhawks came up empty.
In the bottom of the second inning, Kansas was able to load the bases with two outs. The Jayhawk lineup had been shaky all season — batting .248 on the year — but the top half of the order has been productive at getting men on base, and leadoff batter Tucker Tharp was strolling up to the plate. Tharp wasted little time in the batters box, ripping the first pitch he faced and sending it straight to the shortstop who promptly tossed the ball to first.
“It’s been a struggle for us all year,” coach Ritch Price said of the Jayhawks clutch hitting.
Kansas was, however, the first team on the board after a Jordan Dreiling sac-fly to right field in the third inning scored Kevin Kuntz from third, putting Kansas up 1-0.
Yet the lead wasn’t safe for long. In one of his only blunders on the day Wes Benjamin gave up a two-out, three-run homer to Max White after walking two batters before him in the top of the fifth.
“We talk with Wes about reducing his number of walks,” Price said. “He can be more effective.”
The 3-1 lead wasn’t daunting, but the offensively challenged Jayhawks have had troubling getting on base, let alone scoring. Fortunately, Kansas had another opportunity to put more runs up.
In the bottom of the seventh, Kansas exploited the Sooners on a couple of mistakes. After Michael Suitor singled to start the frame, he was able to advance to second on a passed ball. One out later, Tharp reached on a walk and Kuntz followed with another single. Again the Jayhawks had the bases loaded, this time with two outs of breathing room and the power-hitting catcher — James Stanfield — up to bat.
A quick meeting on the mound with Oklahoma’s staff saw starter Jonathan Gray pulled in favor of lefty Steven Okert. The switch not only worked, but paid dividends. Stanfield took a 2-1 offering and grounded it right to the shortstop for a double play.
“They’ve brought in lefties a lot against me this year,” Stanfield said. “He threw me a fastball, which is what I was looking for, it just got in on me a little bit. It could have been big.”
Inning over, again.
The Jayhawks weren’t able to recover from the wasted chance, and Oklahoma took full control. The Sooners scored five runs on six hits in the top of the ninth putting the game out of reach for Kansas.
“There’s no doubt double plays destroy rallies quicker than anything,” Price said of the Jayhawks folly with bases loaded. “They talk about a pitcher’s best friend and that’s why right there.”