Well, they did it again. Except this time they didn’t quite do it.
KU vs. Texas A&M box score ( .PDF )
For what surely seemed to be the umpteenth game in a row, the Kansas University baseball team found a way to mix a little drama into its contest against Texas A&M on Friday at Hoglund Ballpark.
While the Jayhawks have made jumping out to early leads and fighting to hang on to them their norm, this one did not tip in favor of the home team, as a late KU rally came up short, and Texas A&M prevailed, 6-4.
“We competed real well today,” KU second baseman Robby Price said. “They played really well, too. I think it (was) just two good teams going at it. We just couldn’t get it done.”
A big reason for that was A&M closer John Stilson. Kansas led early, when Brian Heere doubled in Price in the bottom of the first, but A&M plated three in the fourth and took a 3-1 lead into the fifth inning.
KU first baseman Zac Elgie led off the fifth with a walk, and Brandon Macias followed with a double to put runners at second and third with no outs. After starter Ross Stripling coerced Casey Lytle to pop out in foul territory, A&M coach Rob Childress went to his closer.
“I think (the difference in the game) was all Stilson,” KU coach Ritch Price said. “I think that when Rob went to the bullpen that early, obviously he intends to use him like that as soon as he has the lead and not let somebody tie the game or take the lead before you go to him. It’s not often you see the closer come in in the fifth inning like that.”
It’s also rare that a closer lasts longer than the starting pitcher. Friday night, Stilson did just that. Until Robby Price’s two-out, two-RBI double in the bottom of the ninth, Stilson had baffled the Jayhawks to the tune of two hits and six strikeouts over five innings. Even the two runs Price drove in the ninth were unearned, as both runners who scored reached on errors to kickstart the rally.
Price finished the night with three hits. He and left fielder Jimmy Waters were the only Jayhawks to record more than one hit. Even they admitted to being overmatched at times by Stilson’s stuff.
“When they brought in their closer, it wasn’t even a step down (for them),” Price said. “It was actually probably an improvement from the first guy.”
Like Stripling, who allowed two runs and struck out one batter in 41⁄3 innings of work, Stilson routinely hovered around the 95 mph mark with his fastball. That made his breaking stuff that much more difficult for the KU offense to adjust to.
Although the loss left the Jayhawks (18-10 overall, 3-2 in Big 12 Conference play) feeling down, both Prices said they were encouraged by the fight the team showed in the ninth.
“Hopefully we’ll take that momentum over to tomorrow and get after ’em early,” Robby Price said.
Added the KU skipper: “You know, when you’re down, 6-2, if you get the tying run to the plate, you did a really good job of battling back. That’s the only way you get a chance for somebody to do something special.”
Speaking of special, KU starter Cameron Selik pitched into the seventh and recorded a career-high eight strikeouts in picking up the loss. In addition, Robby Price extended his hitting streak to 12 games, four off his career best.
The Jayhawks and Aggies will wrap up their three-game series at 11 a.m. today. Brett Bollman (1-2 record, 6.37 earned-run average) is expected to start on the mound for the Jayhawks.
“(Today’s) huge, especially being at home,” Heere said. “You gotta win every series at home. Hopefully we’ll come out with some energy.”