Kansas baseball avoids sweep, beats Oklahoma

LAWRENCE, Kan. – With two outs, runners at first and second and the score tied in the bottom of the ninth inning, junior designated hitter Dakota Smith scorched a 2-2 fastball off the wall in left field to drive in the winning run, as the Kansas baseball team defeated Oklahoma, 4-3, Sunday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.

The Jayhawks (18-10, 3-3 Big 12) took a two-run lead into the ninth, 3-1, behind the arm of senior right-handed hurler Frank Duncan, who started on bump and tossed eight innings. Duncan gave up one run off seven hits and three walks, while recording five strikeouts in the no decision.

Duncan’s 120-pitch effort fell to the arm of senior closer Jordan Piche’ (4-2) who came on in the ninth to close out the game. Piche’ induced two quick outs, before walking OU right fielder Taylor Alspaugh after an eight-pitch at bat. Pinch hitter Austin O’Brien connected on a Piche’ fastball for the RBI-single, before a single by second baseman Keach Ballard and a throwing error by KU senior catcher Ka’iana Eldredge scored the tying run for the Sooners, 3-3.

In the bottom of the ninth, junior shortstop Justin Protacio drew the one-out walk after a nine-pitch at bat, to set the table for freshman right fielder Joven Afenir, who beat out the infield single. Juinor right fielder Michael Suiter battled back from a 1-2 count, but swung right through the fastball for the second out of the frame.

Then with two outs and runners at first and second and the outfield playing shallow to cut the run at home, Smith connected with the fastball and sent it right over Sooner left fielder Hunter Haley’s head for the game-winning RBI-double to save the season for Kansas as the team avoided the conference sweep and evened its record in Big 12 play (3-3).

Suiter led all KU hitters with a 3-for-5 performance at the plate with an RBI, while Eldredge was the only other Jayhawk with multiple hits on the day (2-for-3).

Oklahoma (20-9, 4-2 Big 12) saw two players with multiple hits, led by the 3-for-5 effort of Haley, who also scored a run.

Kansas wasted no time jumping out to an early one-run lead after the first inning. Protacio led off the game with a walk, and advanced to second on the wild pitch. Suiter then smoked an RBI-single to left field to put the Jayhawks on top, 1-0.

KU added to its lead in the second inning, thanks to a two-out error by OU shortstop Hector Lorenzana. Junior third baseman Aaron Hernandez reached first after a two-out hit by pitch. Eldredge followed with a single through the left side to put runners at first and second for sophomore second baseman Tommy Mirabelli. Mirabelli skied one high on the infield and the strong Kansas winds forced a tough play for Lorenzana, who misplayed the ball and let it drop for the KU run, 2-0.

The Sooners answered in the top of the third, scoring their first run of the game. Haley hit a two-out triple down the left field line into the corner, before scoring on the Duncan wild pitch to cut the KU lead in half, 2-1.

The Jayhawks tacked on their third run of the game in the fourth inning thanks to a one-out double by senior centerfielder Tucker Tharp. Eldredge followed Tharp with the walk, before Mirabelli ripped the RBI-single through the right side to extend Kansas’ lead to two runs, 3-1.

Both teams were held scoreless the next four innings, before KU made a move to the bullpen to bring in its closer, Piche’ for the ninth.

Piche’ gave up two OU runs in the top half of the inning, before Smith sealed the deal with his two-out RBI-double in the bottom half, giving the Jayhawks their third conference win of the season.

The Jayhawks are back on the diamond Tuesday, April 1, as they play host to Wichita State. The game is set to begin at 6 p.m. and can be seen on the Jayhawk Television Network and on ESPN3 outside the state of Kansas.

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