Kansas failed to get a runner on base in the top of the ninth, falling 8-4 to Baylor in the teams’ final Big 12 tournament game.
Bears reliever Craig Fritsch earned the win to move to 4-5 this season, while KU starter Lee Ridenhour (6-3) suffes the loss.
KU drops to 37-22 overall this season. The Bears are now 29-24.
Another inning down, another goose egg for the Kansas offense. First baseman Preston Land singled with two outs, but Kansas failed to get anything going, suffering two strike outs (both looking) in a scoreless eighth.
With one on and no out in the bottom half, KU reliever Brett Bochy made a nice play on an Aaron Miller grounder up the middle, throwing to second to kick off a double play. He then got Dan Evatt to ground out to end the inning.
The Jayhawks’ will have one more chance in the ninth, when leadoff batter David Narodowski, pinch hitter Joe Lincoln and Brian Heere are due up.
The Jayhawks appeared to have something going in the top of the inning. With two outs, Brian Heere walked and Buck Afenir followed with a single to right field, putting two runners on base with Tony Thompson coming to the plate.
Thompson, of course, was responsible for the team’s first four runs, having homered with the bases loaded in the third inning. He couln’t quite match his earlier magic, however, flying out to centerfield for the third out.
Baylor pushed its lead to 8-4 in the bottom of the inning when designated hitter Dustin Dickerson hit a deep sacrifice fly to right field against KU reliever Colton Murray that scored Gregg Glime, who had reached base on a fielder’s choice earlier in the inning.
Kansas couldn’t capitalize on Tony Thompson’s leadoff walk, going scoreless for the third consecutive inning. Although they managed to trim Baylor’s lead to a manageable number in the third, the Jayhawks have failed to advance a runner past second base since.
Fortunately for the Jayhawks, the Bears haven’t been able to build their lead, either, going hitless in a scoreless sixth.
The injury to Kansas second baseman Robby Price has presented a tough situation for Kansas coach Ritch Price. Because he moved designated hitter James Stanfield to second base defensively, the team loses it’s No. 2 spot in the order, where Robby Price was originally listed. Stanfield, who is the team’s No. 7 batter, is not allowed to move up in the order, and as a result, the Jayhawks have two options with the No. 2 hole: 1. have the pitcher bat; or 2. rotate pinch hitters into the game in that spot, knocking a pitcher from the game each time they do.
So far, they’ve elected to bring in a pinch hitter, meaning they entered the inning with their fourth pitcher — right-hander Kevin Burk — of the game.
In the meantime, the top of the Jayhawks order continues to struggle. Baylor reliever Craig Fritsch retired two of the first three batters he faced — the exception being pinch hitter Jimmy Waters, who singled in the No. 2 spot — and then got KU’s Buck Afenir to line out to center field for the third out.
Afenir, a second-team all-Big 12 catcher who is batting .342 this season, has gone just 1-for 11 so far in the conference tournament.
In the bottom half of the inning, Burk and left-handed reliever Travis Blankenship — KU’s fifth pitcher through five innings — combined to hold the Bears scoreless.
Today’s game hasn’t gone well for starting pitchers. After Kansas’ Lee Ridenhour was pulled after one inning, Baylor starter Jon Ringenberg didn’t get out of the fourth, pulled in favor of right-handed reliever Craig Fritsch despite retiring the first two batters he faced. Fritsch then got KU center fielder Nick Faunce to ground out to shortstop to hold the Jayhawks scoreless in the inning.
Ringenberg’s final line: 3 2/3 innings, four runs, five hits, four strikeouts and one walk.
The Bears put one more run on the board in the bottom of the inning after designated hitter Dustin Dickerson led off with a ground-rule double to left field. He moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, and scored on Shaver Hansen’s sacrifice fly one batter later.
Tony Thompson couldn’t have picked a better time to break Kansas’ single-season home run record. With the Jayhawks facing a 6-0 deficit with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the inning, Thompson hit his 19th home run of the season, a grand slam off a Wendy’s sign in deep left field.
The shot allowed Thompson to take sole possession of the program’s single-season home run record — he was previously tied with former players Travis Metcalf and Russ Blaylock with 18 — and more importantly, helped KU work its way back into the game.
Thompson’s four RBIs also marked his first of the tournament, while his grand slam was his second of the year.
KU reliever Brett Bollman, who replaced Cameron Selik after just one inning of work, then worked his way out of a two-out jam, getting Baylor’s Raynor Campbell to foul out as the Jayhawks held the Bears scoreless for the first time all game.
KU starter Lee Ridenhour’s second outing against Baylor didn’t last long. The freshman righthander was pulled after the first inning today — replaced by right-handed reliever Cameron Selik — after allowing three runs on four hits in the first inning.
Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, Selik didn’t fare much better. With two runners on and two outs, Baylor’s Shaver Hansen homered to right field, pushing the Bears’ lead to 6-0. In four games against Kansas this season, Hansen has notched four home runs and recorded seven RBIs.
As has been the case all tournament, meanwhile, Kansas wasn't able to get things going early from the plate. Baylor starter Jon Ringenberg retired the Jayhawks’ side in order in the top of the second, meaning Kansas hasn’t scored in the first two innings of any of their three Big 12 tournament games.
The Jayhawks suffered a significant blow in the bottom half of the inning when all-Big 12 honorable mention second baseman Robby Price suffered what appeared to be a left shoulder injury while diving to make a play up the middle. After stopping a hard-hit ball off the bat of Baylor’s Shaver Hansen and likely saving a run, Price looked to be in considerable pain, remaining on the turf for a few minutes as trainers attended to him. He evenutally walked off the field, replaced by freshman infielder James Stanfield.
Things would only get worse for Kansas. The Bears’ next batter, Aaron Miller, singled to score one run, and two batters later, Ben Booker doubled to right-center field to score two to give Baylor an early 3-0 lead.
By the end of the inning, Cameron Selik was warming up in the Kansas bullpen.
With the exception of a Brian Heere single to center field, the top of the inning didn’t go much better for the Jayhawks. David Narodowski grounded out to third to start the game, and Baylor starting pitcher Jon Ringenberg struck out Robby Price (looking) and then closed the top of the inning by getting KU catcher Buck Afenir to strike out, as well.
Today, the Kansas University baseball team will try to salvage its first Big 12 tournament appearance in three years with a victory over eighth-seeded Baylor today at 9 a.m., in a game that could likely have NCAA tournament implications. In many ways, the Bears are the most intriguing team in this year's conference tournament. After entering the season with sizable expectations, the Bears faltered down the stretch and dropped from the nation's top 25, concluding the season with 10 straight conference losses and snuck into the conference tournament only after the final game of its series against Oklahoma State was canceled. Had OSU defeated Baylor, the Cowboys would have taken the tournament's final spot.
However, the Bears made a splash in their first game in Oklahoma City, beating top-seeded Texas 14-9 on Wednesday before falling 9-4 to fourth-seeded Kansas State the following evening. A victory over the Jayhawks today would push their tournament record to 2-1, with victories over the No. 1 and No. 5 seeds. Likewise, a Kansas win would give the team a much-needed tournament win and help alleviate the disappointment of its first two games.
KU: Lee Ridenhour, 6-2, 4.37 ERA, 48 strikeouts, 23 walks
BU: Jon Ringenberg, 2-0, 5.19 ERA, 19 strikeouts, 7 walks
1. David Narodowski (ss), .351, five home runs, 38 RBIs
2. Robby Price (2b), .303, 5, 29
3. Brian Heere (rf), .360, 5, 37
4. Buck Afenir (c), .342, 9, 60
5. Tony Thompson (3b), .370, 18, 74
6. Casey Lytle (lf), .282, 2, 23
7. James Stanfield (dh), .312, 0, 11
8. Preston Land (1b), .219, 3, 21
9. Nick Faunce (cf), .287, 2, 27
1. Dustin Dickerson (dh), .379, 10, 39
2. Joey Hainsfurther (2b), .341, 1, 28
3. Shaver Hansen (ss), .325, 15, 53
4. Aaron Miller (rf), .326, 12, 46
5. Dan Evatt (1b), .320, 7, 31
6. Ben Booker (lf), .322, 1, 12
7. Don Lambert (cf), .173, 0, 4
8. Gregg Glime (c), .197, 2, 13
9. Raynor Campbell (3b), .246, 8, 30
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Robby Price and Brian Heere, the team's No. 2 and 3 hitters, must reach base: Heere and Price and first and second on the team, respectively, in on-base percentage this season, and while they combined for five hits in the Jayhawks' tournament-opening loss to Kansas State on Wednesday, they were both 0-for-4 against Texas ace Chance Ruffin the following day. For much of the season, Kansas has gone as they have gone. When they're getting on base and putting pressure on opposing pitchers, it has opened up the offense.
2. KU all-Big 12 third baseman Tony Thompson drives in at least two runs: Despite recording five hits in two tournament games, Thompson has yet to drive in a run, and hasn't recorded an RBI since hitting a solo home run in last weekend's regular season finale against Kansas State. He led the conference in RBIs this season (and home runs, and doubles and total bases and hits), and, along with catcher Buck Afenir, has been the team's top source of run production. Granted, most of his at-bats this week have come without runners on base, but a couple of quick RBIs could be exactly what the team's offense needs to get started today.
3. KU overcomes its mental block against the Bears: Baylor is 35-6 all-time against Kansas, and as Kansas coach Ritch Price pointed out on Friday, Baylor is the only Big 12 team the Jayhawks haven't beaten in a series in his seven years at the school. This season, the Bears handed KU its only home series loss of the season, winning two of three games at Hoglund Ballpark in April, one of which was a 21-9 pounding in the series' final game.
WHY KANSAS WILL WIN
It's better to be safe than sorry. While the Jayhawks' regular-season resume is indeed superb — Kansas went 37-19 despite playing eight ranked teams — an 0-for-3 showing in the conference tournament could be enough to persuade the NCAA tournament committee to pass them by during Monday's selection show. Of the league's Sunday starters, meanwhile, few are better than KU's Lee Ridenhour, who despite a shaky outing against the Bears earlier this season, has made significant strides throughout the course of the spring. As was the case before the Texas game, if Ridenhour can limit Baylor's stout but sometimes streaky offense, and the Jayhawks can score five or more runs, there's no reason they can't grab their first victory of the postseason.
WHY BAYLOR WILL WIN
It's fighting for its postseason life. While multiple bracket projections currently have Baylor included in the tournament's 64-team field, there's a chance this could be the Bears' final game of the season if they can't find a way to leave Oklahoma City with a winning record. Having beaten top-seeded Texas on the tournament's opening day, and lost 9-4 to fourth-seed Kansas State, today's game will be their final opportunity to make a splash. The Bears slammed Ridenhour earlier this year, knocking him out after he'd given up six runs in just three innings, and if they can pick up where they left off this time around, it could be a long morning for Kansas.