KNOXVILLE, TENN. If Kansas baseball coach Dave Bingham had any questions about how much Jeff Niemeier meant to the Jayhawks, they were answered Friday.
Niemeier, a senior from Gladstone, Mo., who had played in all 56 of Kansas' games and started 55 as catcher, broke a bone is his left foot on Wednesday.
On Friday, he sat in the dugout as Kansas dropped a 7-4 decision to Fresno State in the opening game of the NCAA tournament's Mideast Regional at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Kansas was scheduled to face top-seeded Tennessee at 2 p.m., Lawrence time, today.
The Bulldogs (39-20) put it away with a five-run sixth.
"We just haven't had many five-run innings against us," Bingham said. "It was just a pitching thing. Chris (Corn, starter) didn't have as good a stuff as we've seen. The coordination between pitcher and catcher wasn't very good. The game was called differently."
BINGHAM PRAISED backup catcher Jack Wilmot, a sophomore, but Bingham said the Jayhawks (41-16) couldn't quite recover from the loss of their leader.
"I think it was two factors," Bingham said. "Part of it was just being in an important situation like this. We kind of just felt our way through. I felt we were nervous. Also, the situation with Jeff Niemeier was a big factor -- his game-calling and his leadership. Not many people outside the program understand what a difference he made to this team."
Niemeier hit .378 this season with nine home runs and 62 RBIs. He is KU's all-time leader in hits, RBIs and doubles.
"We took a chance all season," Bingham said. "We knew he could get hurt. Without Jeff, we wouldn't have gotten here."
Wilmot started just one game for KU and played in just 20. His playing time was cut because of Niemeier's contribution to the team.
"We were crossing our fingers all season," Bingham said. "Jack will be a good catcher. I guarantee you he'll be better tomorrow than he was today. He just needs to get his tail out there."
WILMOT STOPPED several potential wild pitches, but he allowed a stolen base and was charged with one passed ball.
"Jack had a couple of strikeouts, but basically he did what he had to do," Bingham said. "It's just when you play a very close game, a little break makes the difference."
That little break turned out to be the five walks issued by Corn (9-3). All five Bulldogs eventually scored.
"They did a great job all day hitting my off-speed pitches," Corn said. "I thought I lost my composure in the sixth. I lost the release point on my fastball. Niemeier gives me so much confidence when he's behind the plate, but Jack Wilmot did a great job today."
The Jayhawks scored just two runs off five Fresno State errors. KU shortstop Dan Rude and second baseman Jeff Berblinger each had two of the team's eight hits.
FSU's Mike Salazar (13-2) earned the complete-game win. He struck out seven and walked just two.
"The story of the day was Salazar," Bingham added. "He really pitched well. Left-handers have been given us trouble lately, so I knew we had to get him out of there and get into their right-handed relief. But we couldn't get to him. He deserves a lot of credit. He had some big pitches."