It took 16 innings and plenty of close calls, but Kansas University’s baseball team finally cracked the scoreboard against Texas A&M on Saturday at Hoglund Ballpark.
Unfortunately for the home team, the three-run seventh inning that featured the Jayhawks’ only extra-base hits of the series proved to be little more than a feel-good moment, as the Aggies nickle-and-dimed their way to a 6-4 victory.
“The strength of their program is pitching and defense,” KU coach Ritch Price said of Texas A&M. “They play outstanding defense. That’s as good a two days of defense that I’ve seen here in 10 years.”
And yet the Jayhawks (12-23 overall, 2-9 Big 12) still nearly overcame it.
KU’s big inning came with the Aggies leading 6-0 and starting pitcher Ross Stripling (6-1) in complete control. Third baseman Zac Elgie started it with a walk — Stripling’s second of the day — and came around to score on a Jordan Dreiling double. Jake Marasco followed with a single, and he and Dreiling scored when Dakota Smith roped the first pitch he saw to the wall in left-center. Smith’s two-RBI double was one of the few balls that fell behind A&M center fielder Krey Bratsen.
“We’ve been swinging the bats well,” said Smith, who finished 1-for-4. “We just figured they have to start falling, and luckily a couple did today.”
Asked how frustrating it becomes to see the Aggies run down well hit balls, Smith was honest.
“After the first one, it gets pretty old,” he said.
No player is that more true for than junior designated hitter Alex DeLeon, who once again hit several pitches right on the button but left the park with nothing to show for it.
“DeLeon could have five home runs this weekend,” Dreiling said. “That’s one of the best outfields I’ve ever seen.”
While the Jayhawks did their damage late, A&M built its lead with two in the third, one in the fourth, one more in the fifth and two in the sixth. It could have been much worse, but KU’s Tucker Tharp threw out an Aggie base-runner at third for the second out of the sixth inning, and freshman pitcher Robert Kahana (four innings pitched, four hits, two runs and three strikeouts) picked off A&M’s Jacob House to end the inning.
That left KU with a chance, and Elgie and Dreiling struck again in the ninth. Elgie roped a leadoff single to start things, and Dreiling’s hard-hit ball to first base seemed destined to be a double play but wound up putting runners on the corners with no outs after an error by A&M shortstop Mikey Reynolds.
The threat gave the Jayhawks momentary hope, but that was quickly squelched when Marasco struck out and pinch-hitter Chris Manship grounded out to short. Elgie scored on the groundout, but Smith struck out swinging to end the game.
Price said he hoped that KU’s improved performance against the Aggies’ elite pitching would set the stage for a victory in today’s series finale.
“Friday and Saturday we faced two of the best pitchers in America,” Price said. “And the kid we’ll see (today), his numbers are actually better than the other two guys. So we’ve got our hands full. We just need everybody to continue to get better. That team took us apart (on Friday), and we bounced back (Saturday). One inning or one game can turn it around for you, so hopefully we’ll keep making progress.”
The Aggies (28-7, 9-2) and Jayhawks will play the final game of the series at 1 p.m. today, when A&M’s Rafael Pineada (5-0, 2.01 ERA) faces Thomas Taylor (3-4, 4.13).