KU gives up early lead and falls to top-seeded Oklahoma, concluding chaotic Big 12 run

photo by: Carter Gaskins/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas' Kodey Shojinaga (18) connects with a base hit against Texas Southern Friday, March 1, 2024, at Hoglund Ballpark.

The Kansas baseball team relinquished a 9-0 lead Friday morning against TCU and still managed to win, thanks to a go-ahead home run by Jake English.

The seventh-seeded Jayhawks then had to immediately play a Big 12 Conference semifinal game against the top team in the league, Oklahoma, in which they gave up a 6-0 lead and were not able to pull off the same late-game heroics.

Making their first appearances of the postseason, relievers Kolby Dougan and Gavin Brasosky struggled in the middle frames, squandering a stellar start by J’Briell Easley against the Big 12’s best offense.

And then with the Jayhawks struggling to plate runners, OU’s Jackson Nicklaus dealt the final blow to KU’s hopes of an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with a walk-off home run off Cooper Moore in the ninth inning, as the Sooners won 8-6.

KU wraps up its Big 12 tournament, and likely its season given its unfavorable NCAA RPI metrics, with a record of 31-23, and 17-17 in games against Big 12 foes.

Easley, who had previously not gone longer than 2 1/3 innings in a game, struck out 11 in 4 2/3 and Ben Hartl and Kodey Shojinaga combined for seven hits. But OU’s mid-tournament bullpen depth outstripped KU’s as the Sooners handed the Jayhawks a loss for the second time in two days.

KU began the game with its second consecutive first-inning onslaught, opening with a walk and a pair of singles before English doubled to right field to give the Jayhawks an early two-run edge. Lenny Ashby followed him up with a sacrifice fly, and Collier Cranford dropped another single over shortstop Jaxon Willits to score a fourth run off Brendan Girton.

Girton ended the threat with a pair of strikeouts, but the Jayhawks picked up where they left off in the second with two more baserunners to force OU to bring in Grant Stevens. Stevens hit Hartl with a pitch to load the bases again, but struck out Shojinaga.

However, English drove in one run on a fielder’s choice and Ashby picked up his second RBI of the game on a hard-hit single.

Meanwhile, KU started a well-rested Easley, who struck out five batters in the first two innings and then got out of a minor jam in the third. OU finally disrupted him with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, when Willits hit a two-run home run to bring new life to the Sooners.

Easley left a runner on and Dougan struggled as his immediate replacement, walking two consecutive batters to bring the tying run to the plate. Dougan got two strikes on Nicklaus but allowed a two-RBI single as OU cut it to 6-4.

Dougan exited without recording an out and Brasosky gave up another RBI single, but Nicklaus was tagged out going to third base to end the inning with a one-run margin.

In the sixth inning, however, Jason Walk made it to third on a pair of passed balls and then scored to tie the game on a single by Willits.

The Sooners threatened again in the seventh with one out and a runner on third, but Tegan Cain followed a walk with a pair of swinging strikeouts.

With runners on first and second and one out in the top of the eighth, Carson Atwood got English to pop out on the 14th pitch of an at-bat. Atwood was immediately replaced by James Hitt, who hit Ashby with his first pitch to load the bases for Cranford, and then got taken out for Jett Lodes.

Cranford sent a ball to the outfield that looked like a sure extra-base hit, but Rocco Garza-Gongora snagged it for the third out.

In the ninth, Lodes walked back-to-back batters to bring up John Nett at the top of the order and force another OU pitching change to Ryan Lambert. The change paid off in spades, as Lambert was able to strike out Nett and Hartl as KU left its 13th and 14th runners on base.

KU 11, TCU 10

Earlier in the day, English homered for the lead and closer Hunter Cranton got TCU’s Kurtis Byrne to ground into a key ninth-inning double play as the Jayhawks avoided disaster in a one-run victory over the ninth-seeded Horned Frogs.

Byrne had been responsible for two of the five home runs that helped the Frogs erase a 9-0 deficit, and Luke Boyer’s two-run shot off Cain tied the game at 10-10 in the seventh inning.

KU was able to load the bases with two outs in the home half of the seventh against Hunter Hodges, but after Hartl drew a full count, TCU went with a rare mid-at-bat pitching change to Braeden Sloan, who struck out Hartl immediately.

However, Sloan took the eventual loss when he gave up English’s bomb in the following inning.

That was just one of the many twists and turns of a game that also included a protracted stoppage of more than 15 minutes when both managers presented their opinions to the umpires on the legitimacy of a bunt single by TCU’s Sam Myers. When all was said and done Myers got to stay on first base.

KU coach Dan Fitzgerald later said during the broadcast his objection was that the umpires had apparently called Myers out for the ball hitting him during the play, causing the Jayhawks’ defenders to slow down, then ruled that it had not hit him. Fitzgerald protested the call.

“I’ve never seen that before on a baseball field,” he said, “where a guy is called out and then awarded the base that way.”

Both starting pitchers had rough outings. KU’s newly minted all-conference freshman of the year Dominic Voegele allowed seven earned runs on seven hits in five innings.

TCU gave the start to Chase Hoover, a sophomore reliever with a 6.86 ERA making his first start of the year, who did not make it nearly that far.

Shojinaga doubled on a ball just inside the left-field line, moving Nett to third with just one out in the first inning. English swung at the first pitch and came up with a single to left, putting KU up 2-0 early, and Chase Diggins followed suit soon after.

Mike Koszewski drew one additional walk to bring the Jayhawks back to the top of the order and force TCU to go to its bullpen. Kole Klecker promptly gave up a two-RBI double to Nett, then hit Hartl to load the bases for a third time.

Shojinaga delivered again with his second extra-base hit of the first inning, this time to score all three runners. Klecker eventually struck out Ashby, the 14th batter of the frame.

Voegele, meanwhile, allowed a pair of two-out home runs, one with a runner already on second base, to make it 9-3. Then, after the Myers controversy, Voegele hit a batter and then gave up his third home run of the game, cutting KU’s lead in half.

The offensive onslaught continued, this time in the Jayhawks’ favor, when they chased Klecker with back-to-back singles. But rarely used TCU reliever Colt Taylor generated an immediate double play, limiting KU to one run.

Byrne hit his second home run of the game off Voegele in the top of the fifth inning, after which point Taylor and Moore sped up the pace of the game with solid relief pitching. Taylor went out after allowing his first hit following 3 1/3 scoreless innings and was replaced by Hodges.

TCU broke through with Cain on the mound for the Jayhawks, with its first two batters singling in the seventh inning and then advancing on a passed ball, and its third walking on four pitches.

After a mound visit from pitching coach Brandon Scott, Cain got Byrne to ground into a 4-6-3 double play, but promptly allowed the home run to Boyer to tie the game at 10-10.

Myers and Anthony Silva led off the bottom of the ninth with singles off Hunter Cranton, but Byrne grounded into a double play on a bouncing ball in the infield and, with the tying run on third, Chase Brunson flew out to end TCU’s season.


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