KU baseball misses key opportunity in 7-5 loss to top-seeded Oklahoma

photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas outfielder Mike Koszewski catches a fly ball against Houston on Saturday, May 11th, 2024, at Hoglund Ballpark in Lawrence.

Oklahoma starter Kyson Witherspoon’s pitch count kept climbing in the fourth inning as he walked one Jayhawk after another. Already leading 4-2 thanks to five uncharacteristic early errors by the conference-champion Sooners, Kansas had the bases loaded with just one out and a golden chance to strike.

But the Jayhawks got nothing more. Witherspoon struck out Collier Cranford on a full count, and then, on his 107th pitch, the 12th of the at-bat and 38th of the inning, Witherspoon caught Ty Wisdom looking.

Instead of KU extending its lead, OU seized control. Catcher Scott Mudler hit his second RBI single of the game before Jaxon Willits got the Sooners the lead with a two-run home run.

The Jayhawks missed their window of opportunity in a Big 12 Conference tournament game that could have meant vastly more to them than it did to the Sooners and lost 7-5 Thursday afternoon at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

KU (30-22) also had a chance to tie the game in the seventh inning when it was down 5-4, but Lenny Ashby was tagged out at home trying to get home from third on a shallow flyout.

The seventh-seeded Jayhawks will now have to take on ninth-seeded TCU (33-20) in an elimination game on Friday morning at 9 a.m., with the winner facing Oklahoma (36-18) in a rematch immediately afterward. KU previously took a series win over TCU at the start of the Big 12 schedule.

Ashby was the only KU player with multiple hits, whereas Oklahoma had five, led by Kendall Pettis, who went 3-for-4.

Witherspoon actually pitched four innings with just two hits allowed and zero earned runs. KU, meanwhile, was able to throw its ace Reese Dutton on a full week of rest after getting Wednesday off, but it was an imperfect outing for Dutton — 5 1/3 innings with four earned runs allowed on nine hits.

It began when the leadoff man John Spikerman singled, advanced on a mishandled pickoff and then came home on a sacrifice fly by OU’s top hitter Easton Carmichael.

The Jayhawks matched that small ball with some of their own, however, following up a double by Ashby with a groundout, before OU’s Pettis misjudged a shallow fly ball off the bat of Wisdom and allowed Ashby to score.

That was just the beginning of a disastrous defensive inning for the Sooners. KU was able to load the bases with back-to-back walks against Witherspoon, setting up a key at-bat for Ben Hartl. Hartl lined the ball to Anthony Mackenzie, but a fielding error allowed the Jayhawks to take the lead. Then, Kodey Shojinaga’s hard-hit ground ball turned into another error at shortstop, before Jake English popped out in foul territory to bring the top of the second to a merciful conclusion for OU.

John Nett made a leaping catch in the wall in right-center field to rob what would have been a game-tying home run by Jackson Nicklaus. The Sooners still managed to answer in the bottom of the second on an RBI single by Mudler that cut KU’s lead to 3-2, but Dutton was able to avoid any further damage.

The Jayhawks’ next turn at the plate took a little longer to develop, but Cranford reached on a throwing error to start things up, and eventually Mike Koszewski hit an RBI single before advancing to second on the Sooners’ fifth error of the game.

With two runners in scoring position, though, and the top of the KU lineup coming back up, Witherspoon got Nett to ground out to end the inning.

He later escaped the pivotal bases-loaded jam to conclude his outing.

As for Dutton, he got himself in more trouble in the sixth by throwing to second instead of taking an out at first, allowing OU to get its second runner on base with no one out. After a wild pitch and a strikeout, he was replaced by Ethan Lanthier, who was able to get a pair of outs to maintain the one-run margin.

Lanthier was not as successful in the seventh, giving up a pair of triples on close plays right in front of Nett. He gave up two runs and struggled to get out of the inning before giving way to Cooper Moore with the bases loaded. Moore earned the final out by getting Spikerman to pop out.

KU had runners at second and third with no one out in the ninth, but was only able to get one run on a sacrifice fly.


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