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Thursday, May 21, 2009

KU baseball has rough road to title game

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With Wednesday’s 5-4 loss to fourth-seeded Kansas State, the Kansas University baseball team didn’t do itself any favors in its quest to win the program’s second Big 12 baseball tournament championship since 2006.

But the Jayhawks aren’t technically out of the running, either.

While KU’s chances of advancing to Sunday’s 1 p.m. title game took a hit, it’s still a possibility based on the tournament’s pool format. In order for the Jayhawks to get there, however, the following things would need to occur: 1. No team in the Jayhawks’ pool (which features Texas, Kansas State, Kansas and Baylor) could finish pool play 3-0; 2. KU would need to win its games against Texas (scheduled for 3 p.m. today) and Baylor (9 a.m. on Saturday); and 3. Texas and Kansas State would both have to finish the three-game pool play with two losses apiece.

Based on the tournament’s tiebreaker system, if two teams in a particular pool have identical records after three games, the team with the higher seed advances to the title game. Kansas is seeded behind both Texas (No. 1) and Kansas State (No. 4), but ahead of Baylor (No. 8).

The Jayhawks received a boost with the Bears’ 14-9 victory over Texas on Wednesday afternoon, although there is still plenty that must go right in order for KU to have a chance at Sunday’s final.

Price lauds Brunansky’s effort, if not the outcome: Had it been another day, in another situation, in another venue, Kansas coach Ritch Price might have been able to appreciate Jason Brunansky’s defensive aggressiveness.

Instead, the freshman’s center fielder’s eighth-inning misstep Wednesday probably will haunt the coach for the foreseeable future.

With two outs in the inning, Brunansky attempted to make a diving catch on a line drive hit by Rob Vaughn. But when the ball landed in front of his glove and rolled past him into center field, it allowed K-State’s Jordan Cruz to score from first — what would prove to be the game-winning run for the Wildcats.

“I don’t fault the effort at all — he’s trying to win a baseball game and make a play,” said Price, citing the youth of this year’s Kansas team. “At the same time, you try to teach kids to play the game with intelligence, and obviously that’s a real bad baseball play. There’s two outs, (Cruz) is running on the play: He should let the ball land in front of him, and then they still have to get a base hit to win the game.”

“Unfortunately for us, he thought he could make the play, and it ended up being a bad baseball play.”

Thompson a bright spot: Perhaps feeling slighted after missing out on the Big 12’s player of the year award, which was given the Oklahoma senior catcher J.T. Wise on Tuesday, Kansas third baseman Tony Thompson took his (possible) frustration out on the Kansas State pitching staff.

Thompson, who was named to the all-conference first team earlier this week, finished the day 4-for-5, scoring a run and extending his current hitting streak to 14 games.

In a breakout sophomore season, the Reno, Nev., native finished first in the Big 12 in home runs (18), RBIs (74) and total bases (155), second in doubles (22) and tied for second in hits (79) while leading the Jayhawks to their best conference finish in school history.

Wise, meanwhile, finished second in the conference in home runs (17), fifth in batting average (.375) and fifth in total bases (130) for the 40-16 (17-10 in the Big 12) Sooners.

Wednesday’s loss dropped Kansas to 4-5 all-time in the Big 12 tournament. Three of their losses have come by one run.

The Jayhawks’ 15 hits are a conference tournament record for the program.

KU reliever Travis Blankenship made his league-leading 35th appearance this season, striking out one in one-third of an inning.

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