Jayhawks head home early at Big 12 Championship

COURTESY: KU Sports Information

OKLAHOMA CITY – Down three runs in the sixth inning with two outs, the Kansas baseball team strung together four-straight hits to pull within a run of the Baylor Bears, but a huge play at the plate ended the chances at a comeback, 4-3, Thursday afternoon at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship.

The Jayhawks (34-24) trailed 4-3 with two outs and a runner on second in the top of the sixth inning when senior catcher Ka’iana Eldredge roped a single to left field. Junior designated hitter Connor McKay, who smoked a two-run double to right center the previous at bat, hustled around third trying to knot the game up at four.

However, a strong throw by BU left fielder Grayson Porter and an equally great tag by catcher Nate Goodwin stopped McKay in his tracks to record the final out of the frame and save the game in favor of Baylor (25-30).

“Obviously, they made a great play by throwing the tying run out at the dish,” Kansas head coach Ritch Price said. “He (McKay) was the tying run and it was the biggest play of the game. I told our players before the game that they have one of the most successful Division I programs in the country and that they were going to come to play today.”

Senior right-handed ace Frank Duncan (6-3) started on the bump for KU and retired the side in the first two innings, before allowing a four-spot in the third inning that ended up being the difference maker in the game. However, the hurler refocused and threw up four zeroes giving his club a chance at a comeback.

“Our pitching coach is always talking about having no regrets,” Duncan said. “I’m a senior and I’ve been here for four years and the biggest thing for me is I want to play the game with no regrets. After today, I’m going to have one against Baylor. This was a team that we swept at their place during the regular season and we should have beat them today.”

Duncan tossed seven innings in the loss, allowing four runs off six hits without allowing a walk. The remarkable feat was that of those six hits, five of them were in the four-run third inning, as he settled down to give the Jayhawks a chance at the win.

Eldredge led the Kansas offensive effort with a 3-for-4 performance at the plate. McKay finished the day with one hit, two RBIs and a run scored, while a sacrifice fly by sophomore third baseman Tommy Mirabelli drove in the only other run of the game for KU.

After finishing the regular season winning 11-of-13 games and sweeping three-consecutive conference opponents, the Jayhawks’ fate now rests in the hands of the NCAA selection committee to see if they will receive a berth in the tournament.

“In the 12 years I’ve been in the Big 12, one of the things I respect the most is how great our league truly is,” Price said. “Every time you walk out onto that field you can get beat any day of the week. We call it a man’s conference – you have to be a big-time player to play in this league and you have to be able to compete and be successful. No team in our league has ever finished third and not made the tournament. So, I believe we are in good shape, but we just have to wait and see what happens.”

The 2014 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship bracket will be announced Monday, May 26, at 11 a.m. on ESPNU.

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