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KU baseball beats Wichita State, keeps NCAA tourney hopes in place

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, May 7, 2013, at 11:57 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, May 8, 2013, at 8:42 a.m.

Kansas players talked about how big it is to beat Wichita State, and the question is: Why?

The reason isn’t going to make anybody in black and yellow happy. It isn’t because WSU is a heavy favorite or a national power — those days are past. It isn’t so much because of a rivalry. It’s because a loss to the Shockers represents a bad loss for a team trying to shore up its NCAA regional at-large resume.

That is where the programs are in 2013. Kansas defeated WSU 7-5 on Tuesday at Eck Stadium in front of a season-high crowd of 4,320. The Jayhawks felt relieved to avoid hurting their power ranking after they gave the Shockers chances to rally from a five-run deficit.

“We can’t afford to lose any more,” Kansas designated hitter Connor McKay said. “We’re trying to get that NCAA berth any way we can.”

Kansas (31-18) entered the game with an RPI ranked No. 41, according to warrennolan.com. WSU (30-22) stood at No. 132. The Shockers won’t play a game with NCAA regional implications until the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Not so with the Jayhawks, who are trying to make their case for a spot in the 64-team field, ones the Shockers used to take for granted. Now, they’re playing spoiler and KU coach Ritch Price had to hope his team didn’t relax after sweeping Baylor.

“We would move back out of the top 50 with a loss, especially where WSU’s RPI was,” Price said. “When you come off (playing) Texas, you come off Oklahoma, it’s hard on a Tuesday night.”

The loss left WSU coach Gene Stephenson looking for positive signs and he found some. Starter Kris Gardner looked better than in past outings, although he didn’t make it out of the fourth. Reliever Tobin Mateychick likely earned another look in this weekend’s series against Creighton with his hitless 2 2/3 innings. And the Shockers rapped out 13 hits, including Micah Green’s first home run of the season and a 3-for-5 night for Garrett Bayliff.

Those positives, however, came up short and and the Shockers lost their fifth straight game to a Big 12 opponent. As in 2009, they lost all four meetings with Kansas and Kansas State.

“It’s a little frustrating, because we’re close to being all right; we’re close to being pretty good,” Stephenson said. “Gardner threw about as well as he can. He stayed ahead of hitters as much as he possibly could. I was really encouraged with Mateychick. I think he’s ready to help us now.”

One rotten inning ruined the Shockers.

KU blew the game open with five runs in the fifth inning to take a 6-2 lead. Justin’s Protacio’s speed set up the inning when he beat a throw by shortstop Erik Harbutz to lead off with a single. He scooted to third on Kevin Kuntz’s hit-and-run single _ through the hole vacated by Harbutz _ and scored on another infield single. WSU had a chance to keep it tied 2-all, but catcher Tyler Baker threw into left field trying to get Kuntz at third, leading a double steal. He scored for a 3-2 lead and the Shockers fell apart.

Baker threw after Alex DeLeon struck out on pitch from reliever Zach Beringer. DeLeon’s backswing tagged Baker on his left arm, throwing him off-balance as he completed the throw.

“I shouldn’t have thrown it,” Baker said. “It kind of threw me off, but that’s no reason to throw it that bad.”

Two walks _ one by reliever Zach Beringer and one by Austin Sanders _ loaded the bases and McKay drilled a fastball into right-center for a triple, past centerfielder Taylor Doggett playing shallow, to give KU a 6-2 lead.

“One inning,” Stephenson said. “You can’t have those. I wish we had that one inning back.”

WSU’s first chance to rally came and went quietly in the bottom of the fifth. A double by Bayliff started the inning. Baker singled and, with one out, Micah Green reached after getting hit by a pitch. KU starter Tanner Poppe struck out Erik Harbutz by getting him to reach for a pitch off the plate. He overpowered freshman Tanner Kirk, striking him out with a high fastball that Kirk swung through.

The Shocker loaded the bases again in the seventh with no outs. They scored two runs without benefit of a hit. Green’s groundball scored one and Harbutz drove in another with a foul ball to left. Junior Mustain struck out Mikel Mucha with the bases loaded to end the inning and perserve a 7-4 lead. In the eighth, Taylor Doggett led off with a bloop triple. Tanner Dearman hammered a ball that centerfielder Tucker Tharp caught on a dive to save extra bases.

“I didn’t think I caught it until I hit the ground and I looked at my mitt,” Tharp said. “I was fortunate it went in my glove, because if it didn’t, things might have been a lot more interesting.”

Doggett scored to cut the lead to 7-5 on Dearman’s blast. The Shockers put runners on the corners before KU summoned closer Jordan Piche to strike out Green and end the threat. Piche pitched a perfect ninth for his 10th save.

Worth noting — The Eck Stadium field lights went out during the seventh inning, causing a 20-minute delay with Kansas at bat. The delay ended the night for WSU pitcher Austin Sanders, relieved by Tobin Mateychick. WSU associate athletic director Brad Pittman said a main breaker tripped. Lights in the press box and grandstand remained on.… Home-plate umpire Doug McClure ejected KU reliever Drew Morovick after Baker scored on a close play in the seventh. Baker tagged on a foul ball to left and slid in, barely beating the tag in McClure’s view.… Harbutz took a ground ball off the throat, after he slipped, in the first inning. He remained in the game.

Protacio 2b412010.281
Kuntz ss411000.308
Suiter lf432111.324
DeLeon 1b502001.323
Dreiling 3b211110.281
Smith rf210111.261
McKay dh302311.241
Eldredge c400002.216
Tharp cf400001.231
Wichita State
Dearman 2b300210.297
Bayliff rf513000.355
Baker c412010.331
Gillaspie 1b502001.307
Kihle pr000000.186
Coy 1b000000.264
Green dh411202.299
Harbutz ss412101.265
Kirk 3b301011.267
Haddox ph1 00000.310
Mucha lf501003.261
Doggett cf311010.304

Wichita State0110002105

E — Tharp, Harbutz, Baker. DP — . LOB — KU 7, WSU 12. 2B — Bayliff (9). 3B — McKay (1), Doggett (2). HR — Green (1). S — Kuntz, Dreiling 2 SF — Smith, Harbutz, Dearman. SB — Kuntz (11), Suiter (17). CS — McKay, Harbutz.

Poppe W,4-35822254.29
Morovick1 2/3222102.73
Kahana 2/3311004.12
Piche S,101000020.71
Wichita State
Gardner3 2/3411234.47
Beringer L,1-31344116.95
Sanders1 2/3322114.50
Mateychick2 2/3000125.81

HBP — Green (by Poppe). Umpires — Doug McClure, home; Larry Waggoner, first; Greg Mudd, third. T — 3:26. A — 4,320.

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