Oklahoma City Missouri outfielder Dane Opel went 3-for-5 with five RBIs, while relief pitcher Jeff Emens blanked Kansas University over the final 32⁄3 innings as Missouri advanced to the Big 12 Baseball Championship at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark with a 12-2 run-rule victory over KU on Saturday.
The Jayhawks end their season at 24-34, advancing to the semifinal round of the conference championship after eliminating both Texas A&M; and Texas the last two days. Missouri (31-26) advanced to meet Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game at 1 p.m. today.
KU trailed throughout Saturday’s contest and could never catch the Tigers. Missouri used a four-run sixth and a three-run eighth to break the game open. Opel collected the big hit in the sixth inning, clearing the bases with a double to plate three runs and increase the Tiger lead to 8-2. Opel came around to score on Michael McGraw’s RBI single as the MU designated hitter collected his third hit and third RBI.
“My compliments to Missouri. They took advantage of the scoring opportunities early in the game,” KU coach Ritch Price said. “We had some opportunities early and weren’t able to capitalize. I thought Emens did a really nice job. He came in and changed the menu from the starting pitcher as far as locating and finishing with his change-up. I thought he made the difference in the ball game.”
The Tigers jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning against KU starter Tanner Poppe with RBI hits from Ben Turner and McGraw. However, KU came back to cut the deficit to 2-1 in the third on Tucker Tharp’s third home run of the season.
After Missouri scored two more runs in the third with a sacrifice fly and an RBI single by Scott Sommerfeld, Tharp delivered his second RBI of the day with a two-out base hit to left that plated Dakota Smith. However, it was all Missouri from there.
Tharp was the only Jayhawk to collect multiple hits in the game, going 2-for-4, while Michael Suiter collected his fifth hit of the tournament with a single off Emens in the sixth.
Five KU pitchers took the mound, with freshman Colin Toalson pitching most effectively, tossing 11⁄3 scoreless innings.
“Today was all about the seniors,” Tharp said. “We were trying to go pitch by pitch and inning by inning to see what we could do to get a close game toward the end and keep advancing. Unfortunately, our bats weren’t there today. I tip my hat to them. They came out, they had 13 hits, and they put runs on the board. We knew it was going to be a slugfest in order to win the game. We had to swing the bat well, and, unfortunately, it just didn’t go our way today. It happens in baseball.”
Emens entered the game with KU threatening in the fifth two on and one out and fanned Zac Elgie and Smith in succession and held the Jayhawks to just one base-runner the rest of the way.
“We’ve made progress during the course of the season,” Price said. “When you’ve got 13 freshmen on your roster playing in this league, you have got a tough task ahead of you. We’ve gotten better each of the last six weeks. Our young guys have made progress, and we’re excited about potentially what we can do on the mound a year from now. I knew it was going to be a long season with growing pains, but hopefully, we’ll be rewarded for it next year and be back in the NCAA Tournament.”