When the weekend began, Kansas University’s baseball team was as hot as it had been all season and salivating about the opportunity ahead with rival and league-leading Kansas State coming to town for a three-game series.
Sunday afternoon, after the Wildcats completed the sweep with a 7-3 victory, the Jayhawks were much less enthusiastic.
For the third straight day, Kansas State flexed its offensive muscles and flashed its defensive leather, both of which were simply too much for the Jayhawks to overcome.
“This weekend, things just didn’t go our way, as the scores showed, and it’s pretty disappointing,” KU senior third baseman Jordan Dreiling said. “They were good, competitive games. We just fell short.”
After losing 4-3 in a dogfight Friday night and falling victim to a nine-run K-State rally to lose 9-6 on Saturday, the Jayhawks quickly found themselves in a hole in the finale. Despite getting just one hit in its first at-bat, K-State (37-15 overall, 14-7 Big 12) picked up two runs in the top of the first thanks to the Jayhawks’ fourth error of the weekend. Although KU responded with a run during its half of the first on an RBI double from Dreiling, the early hole quickly grew, and the Jayhawks were down 5-1 heading into the sixth inning.
“The strength of our club is starting pitching,” KU coach Ritch Price said. “And we pitched about as poorly as we’ve done all year, and that didn’t really give us much of a chance.”
Starter Frank Duncan lasted just three innings and gave up three hits, three earned runs and four walks to the 16 batters he faced. The bullpen did its best to keep KU alive, with Drew Morovick and Tanner Poppe combining for five straight innings of one-run relief. But that success eventually ended, as Poppe, who retired KSU three-up, three-down during the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, gave up two runs in the ninth to turn the Wildcats’ 5-3 lead into a 7-3 advantage.
“The only way you can come back from that far behind is, you gotta put zeroes up,” Price said. “When they scored in the ninth inning, obviously that was devastating.”
Poppe, a senior pitching at home for the final time, said he was pleased with his work in the middle innings.
“I came in and just tried to give our team a chance,” he said. “That’s all you can do in that situation.”
From the sixth inning on, KU put the tying run on base twice and sent the tying run to the plate six times. But aside from a sacrifice fly from Connor McKay and an RBI single from Ka’iana Eldredge — both in the sixth — KU could not push across enough runs to complete the comeback.
“Their defense played really good,” Price said. “I thought we hit, like, four balls that were base hits that they took off the board, and I credit their infield defense. It was fabulous.”
Despite seeing the deficit double in the top of the ninth, the Jayhawks (31-21, 12-12) did not go quietly in their final at-bat. Kevin Kuntz, Michael Suiter and Alex DeLeon all reached base with two outs, allowing Dreiling to come to the plate as the tying run. But the Lawrence native flied out to left field to end the game.
“This one will definitely be a little bit tougher to flush,” a dejected Dreiling said. “But next weekend’s a new weekend, and we just have to get after it.”
Price agreed that moving past this sweep might take awhile but emphasized that his team, which still has hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, did not have time to sulk.
“We’ve gotta get over this weekend in a hurry,” Price said. “We still have a chance.”
KU will close the regular season this weekend with a three-game series at Utah and then will head to Oklahoma City for the Big 12 tournament.
Kansas State 202 010 002 — 7 9 0
Kansas 100 002 000 — 3 8 1
W – Blake McFadden, 5-2. L – Frank Duncan, 3-5.
2B: Austin Fisher, KSU; Jordan Dreiling, KU. 3B: Mitch Meyer, KSU.
KU highlights: Tanner Poppe 4 IP, 2 H, 1 ER. 1 K; Justin Protacio R; Kevin Kuntz 2-for-4; Michael Suiter 1-for-4, R; Alex DeLeon 1-for-2, 3 BB; Jordan Dreiling 1-for-4, RBI, R; Ka’iana Eldredge 1-for-4, RBI.