(Courtesy: KU Athletics)
LAWRENCE, Kan. – All that was missing Sunday was a little celebratory chips and salsa. Kansas won its fifth game in a row after a walk-off hit by No. 5 batter Jordan Dreiling plated the team’s fifth run as the Jayhawks completed a sweep against Baylor, 5-4, on Cinco De Mayo at Hoglund Ballpark. The win marked KU’s first series sweep over Baylor, and was the third-straight game decided by one run.
For the second game in a row, Kansas (30-18, 12-9 Big 12) celebrated on the field with a win in the last at-bat, this time with Dreiling providing the go-ahead knock to right center to push across Michael Suiter. The hit put an exclamation point on Kansas’ fifth series win in Big 12 Conference play and put the Jayhawks right back in the heat of the regular-season title race after a weekend that mirrored its sweep at West Virginia.
“What a difference one weekend makes,” Kansas head coachRitch Price said. “Those are three of the greatest wins you can have in a season and it was almost a microcosm of what we had last weekend at West Virginia where we could of won all three, but dropped all three. It was a well-played college baseball game and a well-played series.”
Kansas struggled in the top of the first inning when an error and two free passes led to two early runs by Baylor (25-23, 11-9 Big 12), but KU starter Frank Duncan settled in and followed with five scoreless frames.
Likewise, the Jayhawks’ offense was slow to get going, stranding a runner at first in the first inning, at second in the second and at third in the third inning before finally breaking the seal with a single run in the fourth. In that inning, Kansas turned a hit-by-pitch on Alex DeLeon into a run with a sacrifice bunt, sacrifice fly and a two-out single by Connor McKay.
Kansas manufactured another run and tied the game in the fifth inning after Tucker Tharp doubled to lead off and scored on a sacrifice fly from Suiter to make it 2-2, then went ahead in the seventh inning on a Kevin Kuntz RBI single that scored Protacio. Kuntz was thrown out trying to stretch the play into a double to end the inning.
Baylor answered in the top of the eighth, thanks again to a pair of walks, then a two-out, game-tying single by Steve DalPorto off KU closer Jordan Piche’, who was throwing for the third time in the series. An error extended the inning and loaded the bases but Piche’ struck out Wes Mercurio to end the threat.
Kansas went quietly in the bottom half of the inning despite a two out single by Dreiling, his first hit of the game.
Baylor took the lead in the top of the ninth as catcher Brett Doe singled to lead off, then Logan Brown swiped second as Piche’ struck out Lawton Langford. KU’s Stopper of the Year candidate seemed to be working out of yet another dicey situation as he fanned Baylor No. 2 hitter Nathan Orf for the second out, but Cal Towey singled to right and Dakota Smith’s attempt to get Brown at home was late. Piche’ got Baylor shortstop Jake Miller to pop out to end the inning.
KU rallied in the bottom of the ninth when Smith led off with a double down the left field line and McKay doubled off the wall in left center. The Jayhawks moved McKay to third on a sacrifice against new Baylor reliever Josh Michalec, but Tharp popped out while attempting to hit a sacrifice fly and Justin Protacio flew out to strand the game-winner 90 feet from home.
The Bears mustered a two-out single in the top of the 10th but Colin Toalson struck out Mercurio again to end the inning and set up the heroics in the bottom half of the frame.
Suiter walked after a groundout by Kuntz, then stole second. DeLeon was unable to move the runner and popped up in foul territory down the first base line for the second out of the inning. That’s when Dreiling started the fiesta for Kansas, driving a 2-0 pitch over Orf’s head in right center to score Suiter from second.
“He left a fastball up and luckily I got a good barrel on it,” Dreiling said of his game winning hit. “I wasn’t sure (it was a hit). I knew I hit it well but their right fielder has made some pretty good plays this weekend so I didn’t know if he was going to have a good enough jump on it. (The mobbing) was pretty solid – I got a couple rib punches in there, but it was pretty fun.”
Dreiling, McKay and Tharp all had two hits for Kansas, which reached 30-wins for the eighth time in 11 years under Price’s direction. Both of Tharp’s base hits were doubles and McKay drove in two runs.
Towey was the offensive leader for Baylor, reaching base four times after going 2-for-3 and drawing two walks. Porter also logged two base knocks for the Bears.
After the sweep, Kansas sits in fourth place in the league standings at 12-9, behind a log-jam, three-way tie for first between Oklahoma, Kansas State and West Virginia, who are all 11-7 in Big 12 play. Kansas has one Big 12 series left next weekend against K-State at Hoglund Ballpark.
Kansas will travel to Wichita State Tuesday to return the trip the Shockers made to Lawrence last Tuesday. That game at Eck Stadium will start at 6:30 p.m.