For the second consecutive game in the Louisville Regional of the NCAA Tournament, the Kansas baseball team found itself in a hole it couldn’t dig out of.
Unfortunately, this time an 8-6 loss to Kentucky meant an end to the Jayhawks’ season in the double-elimination regional at Jim Patterson Stadium.
The Jayhawks, making the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009, trailed 8-0 before making a game of it against Kentucky.
Kansas (35-26) scored five in the bottom of the sixth and one in the eight but couldn’t scratch anything else across against the Wildcats’ bullpen.
“When we got down early in the game, it was too early to give up,” Kansas catcher Ka’iana Eldredge said. “We were down seven in the fourth inning and there was a lot of the game left to be played, so we didn’t give up.
“When you are in an NCAA Tournament anything can happen. Any comeback can happen, so you just have to keep playing. We put ourselves in a position to be back in the game but fortunately for Kentucky they won the ball game.”
Kansas made three fielding errors and starter Robert Kahana (4-7) gave up five hits and five runs – four earned – in three innings of work. He also hit a batter and walked two, giving the Jayhawks only 58 pitches.
Kansas coach Ritch Price also saw reliever Drew Morovick, who was solid in a 10-6 win over Kentucky (37-24) on Friday, give up four hits and three runs in three innings.
“Obviously, we didn’t pitch as good as we needed to pitch to win the baseball game, and they took advantage of power counts,” Price said. “They were really physical with the bat and their short-game execution was really good.
“We just didn’t pitch it well enough to win.”
Kansas was making its fifth appearance in the NCAA Tournament and the third under Price, who said he feels the experience will pay dividends in the future. The Jayhawks lose some key players but have 10 “really good freshmen,” Price said.
“For the seniors, this is our first time in the NCAA Tournament,” Eldredge said. “It’s been an awesome experience. As we said to the younger guys, now it’s all a learning experience. They know what to do. Coach Price is going to have a lot more NCAA Tournament appearances if these young kids continue to work.”
But on this night, it wasn’t meant to be for Kansas. Kentucky picked up two runs in the top of the first when Austin Cousino walked and Max Kuhn singled before A.J. Reed, the likely national Player of the Year, drove in Cousino with a fly to right. Michael Thomas doubled home Kuhn with two outs to make it 2-0.
The Wildcats added one run in the second and sixth and the big inning was a four-run spot in the fourth. UK had four hits and benefited from a hit batter and two Kansas errors in the fourth.
“But we weren’t ready to quit,” Eldredge said.
The Jayhawks plated five in the sixth with Jacob Boylan’s two-run double the big hit. Eldredge added a solo home run in the eighth but it was little too late.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Price said.