The way the stars aligned just right for Kansas University's baseball team on Wednesday night, it's hard to believe that was the same team so saddled with bad karma it had lost the previous 12 straight.
Brandon O'Neal led off with a home run and hit a two-run, two-out homer in the bottom of the ninth to force the extra innings, then O'Neal picked up the win in relief -- but only after Rockhurst reliever Jason Forge made the game-ending error in the 10th -- as the Jayhawks beat the Hawks, 5-4, in 10 innings at Hoglund Ballpark.
The outcome snapped Kansas' 12-game losing streak, the worst skid in school history.
"It was a great win," KU coach Bobby Randall said. "There was a lot of prayer in a lot of ways -- praying for rain, praying not for rain. It came down to the last prayer."
O'Neal was the hero. He was 3-for-5 with two runs and three RBIs, and he pitched 1 2/3 scoreless, hitless innings to improve to 2-1.
"Brandon had a great night," Randall said. "Have you seen 'The Natural'? That home run " he was The Natural."
Trailing 4-2 in the ninth, John Nelson drew a two-out walk. As the winds picked up, the rains came down and lightning began streaking the sky in the distance, O'Neal stepped in and drilled a 2-1 pitch to left-center to plate the tying runs.
"I've been seeing the ball well since Arkansas," said O'Neal, a sophomore who started at shortstop. "That last at-bat, I had been underneath it. I just wanted to hit it hard. I knew it was gone."
But Kansas' losing streak wasn't gone just yet. After O'Neal retired the side in the top of the 10th, the Jayhawks (11-30) won it in the bottom.
Brett Kappelmann led off and reached when Rockhurst shortstop Brad Willis fielded Kappelmann's grounder but threw high to first base. Kappelmann went to second on Shane Wedd's hit-and-run groundout to second, and Ryan Klocksien was intentionally walked to set up a double play. Pinch hitter Matt Van Alsburg then hit a comebacker to Forge. The pitcher fielded the ball cleanly but slipped on the rain-slick mound and made a bad throw to third baseman Mike Simpson for the second error of the inning -- and the game.
As the ball skittered around behind third, Kappelmann sprinted home with the game-winning run. And the rains began in earnest.
"We needed to win, and it didn't look like it was going to be," Randall said. "If he doesn't throw that ball away, I think the game would have been over because it was raining so hard."
But the elements cooperated, and the Jayhawks snapped their skid just in time to head to sixth-ranked Texas A&M; this weekend.
"Thank the lord," O'Neal said. "We definitely didn't need to lose to Rockhurst and then go to A&M.;"
"It was fun to win, and we needed it desperately," Randall added. "King Kong jumped off some backs. I sensed that. I sensed there were some guys walking up to the plate with King Kong on their backs. There were some heavy, heavy at-bats. Maybe the bats will be a little lighter."
Rockhurst fell to 26-12. Forge (4-6) took the loss.
Forge relieved Jonathan Krysa, who allowed just four runs -- all earned -- off six hits over 8 2/3 innings.
"The scouts told me that guy was good," Randall said of Krysa. "He throws 92 (mph). He did a good job keeping us in check."
Kansas will face A&M; at 7 p.m. Friday, 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday in College Station, Texas.
-- Andrew Hartsock's phone number is 832-7216. His e-mail address is email@example.com.