The camera operator at the top of the bleachers reached into the left pocket of his cargo shorts. He pulled out a blue rag, tilted his camera to the side and began to dab at the lens, which had just been splashed by a smattering of rain drops.
With dark clouds and bolts of lightning approaching, the moment couldn’t have shaped up any better for Kansas. The teams hustled through the frame and then the lightning struck, causing a 90-minute delay that ended TCU ace Nick Lodolo’s day.
“He’s got a great arm, there’s no doubt about it,” said KU coach Ritch Price after KU's 4-2 loss. “He was pretty dominant.”
Lodolo, the 41st overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft who opted not to sign in the Majors, finished the day having thrown 72 pitches. At his pace at the time of his exit, he would have finished the game on 108, doing so on exactly one more pitch than KU starter Taylor Turski threw in his five innings of work.
Down 3-1 entering the seventh inning, the Jayhawks had the opportunity to attack a vulnerable TCU bullpen. The Horned Frogs came into Lawrence having surrendered 22 runs in the final three innings in seven of their last eight contests.
The Jayhawks added to that tally but weren’t able to come all the way back.
Skyler Messinger doubled and later advanced to third in the bottom of the eighth but Rudy Karre struck out looking on a pitch that appeared to be well outside the zone. James Cosentino singled to bring Messinger in, but Jaxx Groshans was struck out by TCU righty Durbin Feltman to end the inning.
The Jayhawks brought the tying run to the plate with one out in the ninth, but Brendt Citta and a pinch-hitting Owen Taylor were each retired by Feltman, who routinely hit 95 miles per hour while picking up the save.
“We had a couple opportunities before they got to the closer there where we could’ve got a key two-out knock, we could’ve cut into the lead,” Price said. “But once they got to the big man at the back end, I mean, did I read the stat sheet right? He hasn’t allowed a run yet?”
Unable to make a late push, it was a pair of early mistakes that ultimately sunk the Jayhawks.
After a first inning that involved an error, a passed ball and two TCU runs, the next few innings became somewhat of a pitchers’ duel. Turski retired the Horned Frogs in order in the second, twice scampering over to cover the bag, and then made perhaps the defensive highlight of his 2018 season in the third inning.
Turski was drilled by a comebacker off the bat of Zach Humphreys. The shot knocked the left-hander to the ground, but he popped up, ranged to his left to field the ball and flipped it to first to get the out.
“Since we’ve started Big 12 play, that’s clearly his best outing in four or five weeks,” said Price of Turski’s performance. “I feel like that’s something he can build off of.”
Still, the Jayhawks couldn’t break through.
After getting runners out the corners with one out in the first inning, plating one and stranding the other in scoring position, the Jayhawks tabbed just one hit in the next six innings. In that time, it was defense and pitching that kept them in the game.
While Turski settled in on the mound, shortstop Benjamin Sems was involved in a couple of tough plays. He first helped the Jayhawks avoid potential damage in the fourth inning, spinning to receive the ball from Cosentino and firing the ball to first to complete a double play. Then, with one out in the fifth and a swirling wind making the ball increasingly difficult to judge, Sems bailed out the Jayhawks on what might have been a routine fly on any other day.
With the ball getting caught up in the wind, Sems tracked it all the way from short to near the foul-line in shallow left. He made the difficult catch on one of the few instances where the wind actually aided the offense — rather than simply keeping the ball in the infield and preventing either side from going yard.
Lodolo gave up one run in six innings of work. Turski allowed three (two earned) in five innings, and the KU bullpen allowed only a single hit and run.
“I was pleased with the performance of the guys out of the ‘pen,” Price said. “That was actually a step forward for those three relievers (Tyler Davis, Jonah Ulane, Daniel Hegarty).”
The Jayhawks, who entered winners of two of their last three, were left to regroup with Ryan Cyr taking the mound for Saturday’s showdown against TCU righty Sean Wymer.
First pitch for that game is scheduled for 2 p.m.
TCU 200 100 010 — 4 5 0
Kansas 100 000 010 — 2 4 2
W — Nick Lodolo (5-2). L — Taylor Turski (1-6).
2B — Skyler Messinger, KU.
KU highlights — James Cosentino 2 for 4, RBI; Skyler Messinger 1 for 3, run, game's only XBH; Rudy Karre BB, run.