COURTESY: KU Sports Information
WICHITA, Kan. – Kansas keeps calling the bullpen and Jordan Piché keeps answering the phone. The National Stopper of the Year candidate worked out of a first-and-third jam in the bottom of the eighth inning then sat down the Shockers in order in the ninth to close out a 7-5 Kansas win at Eck Stadium Tuesday night.
Piché notched his Big 12-best 10th save of the season while helping Kansas (31-18) extend its season-best winning streak to six games, including its third sweep of Wichita State (30-22) in the last five seasons. Piché worked in his fourth game in five days and has pitched in six of the last seven contests, but had no trouble retiring Micah Green on three pitches in the eighth, before finishing with a perfect ninth.
Kansas designated hitter Connor McKay clubbed a two-out, bases clearing triple to cap a five-run fifth inning and give Kansas a commanding 6-2 lead, but Wichita State rallied with a pair of runs in the seventh and another in the eighth before Piché was called upon to save another contest. The three-time Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Week didn’t allow a hit and lowered his ERA to 0.71, the second-best mark in the nation.
Kansas took advantage where Wichita State couldn’t in the fifth inning, as both teams loading the bases after dueling to 2-1 Shocker advantage through four. Kansas used three consecutive singles to tie the game and went ahead 3-2 on a double steal turned errant throw to left that scored Michael Suiter. A pair of walks loaded the bases for KU and McKay made the Shockers pay on the first pitch he saw, sending it rolling towards the gap in right center as the bases cleared.
For the second time in the season series, the contest was delayed due to non-baseball interference. A week ago, Tyler Baker captured a squirrel in his helmet at second base before running it to safety outside the stadium, and Tuesday night play was delayed 20 minutes in the top of the seventh when a main breaker for stadium lights was tripped.
When the lights turned back on, Kansas used a sac fly to push the advantage to 7-2, but Wichita State wouldn’t go down without a fight. The first three batters in the bottom of the seventh reached against KU reliever Drew Morovick, and this time with the bases loaded the Shockers didn’t leave empty handed. Green, who hit a solo home run earlier in the game off KU starter Tanner Poppe, grounded out to third to score Garrett Bayliff, then Erik Harbutz fouled out down the left field line and Baker slid under the tag at the plate for WSU’s fourth run.
The Shockers led off the eighth with a triple and used another sac fly on a diving catch by Tucker Tharp in the left centerfield gap to pull within two. Wichita State wrapped two singles around a fly out to chase KU’s Robert Kahana with runners on the corners. That’s when Piché ended all hope.
Both teams combined for 23 hits in the contest, including multiple hits from KU’s Protacio (2), Suiter (2), DeLeon (2), McKay (2) and Wichita State’s Bayliff (3), Baker (2), Gillaspie (2) and Harbutz (2). McKay’s three RBIs were a game high. Tanner Poppe (4-3) was credited with the win after striking out five and allowing two runs in five innings. Zach Beringer (1-3) was tagged with the loss for WSU.
Kansas turns its focus to its final Big 12 Conference series as the Jayhawks welcome Kansas State to Hoglund Ballpark this weekend with conference title and NCAA Tournament implications on the line. Kansas sits in fourth place in the league standings at 12-9, a half game back of a three-way tie for first between Oklahoma, Kansas State and West Virginia, who are all 11-7 in Big 12 play. All three teams have two conference series remaining.