Utah’s Cory Hunt singled over the outstretched arms of Kansas right fielder Connor McKay with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 13thto lift the Utes to their second walk-off victory of the weekend, 7-6, at Spring Mobile Ballpark Monday afternoon. Kansas was swept by Utah and dropped its sixth straight to close the regular season.
Hunt’s only hit of the ballgame was the one that decided the outcome, as the middle infielder went 1-for-6 but managed to find a way against Kansas (31-24) reliever Drew Morovick in the Jayhawks’ eighth extra-inning contest and 21st one-run game of the season. Kansas had a chance to close the door on Utah and salvage a win in the series and season finale, up 6-4 with Big 12 saves leader Jordan Piche’ on the mound in the eighth, but the Utes (20-29) rallied with two in the ninth to force extra innings.
The Jayhawks got a runner on in every inning from the eighth on and had runners at the corners with one out in the 13th before Utah reliever Luke West got KU designated hitter Jacob Boylan to ground into an inning-ending double play. West (4-2) earned the win after the Utes loaded the bases against Morovick, and Hunt placed the winning hit in deep right field to plate the go-ahead with two outs.
Kansas got nine of its 11 hits from the middle four batters in the lineup, including Alex DeLeon who hit his 10th home run of the year to become KU’s first double-digit home run hitter since Tony Thompson hit 21 in 2009. The two-run shot that gave Kansas a 4-0 advantage in the top of the third was the first home run given up in more than 50 innings this season by Utah starter Tanner Banks.
Utah cracked the Poppe code in the bottom of the third inning, getting to KU starter Tanner Poppe after he retired six in a row to start the game. Poppe walked the first two batters, then after a sacrifice bunt moved both runners in to scoring position, Braden Anderson drove them both home. Poppe walked a third batter before being pulled for Robert Kahana. Utah would score two more in a four-run outburst to tie the game before Kansas finally escaped the inning.
Kahana worked two uneventful, scoreless innings before getting a little help, first from the offense in the top of the sixth, then the defense and Tucker Tharp in the bottom half of the inning. Kansas loaded the bases with nobody out in the sixth and used a groundout by Connor McKay and a sacrifice fly from Jacob Boylan to take the lead again at 6-4.
In the bottom half, Kahana gave up a one-out hit and Utah’s Bret Helton drove a ball to deep centerfield, but Tharp tracked it down and caught the ball on a full-extension dive toward the wall. The hit would have been for extra bases and likely scored the runner on first, who had broken for second before the pitch.
Kahana pitched through the seventh, scattering a pair of hits over 4.2 innings and struck out two batters. Kansas looked to Piche’ to protect its lead and earn a two-inning save, but after working through a scoreless eighth he surrendered back-to-back hits to start the ninth. A half-successful sacrifice attempt by Tyler Yagi put runners on the corners and TJ Bennett made it 6-5 with a groundout to short. Wyler Smith tied the game with a two-out infield single before Piche’ struck out Hunt to stop the bleeding.
Piche’ pitched through the 10th before turning the ball over to Morovick.
Jordan Dreiling went 3-for-5 to tie for the game-high in hits and also drew a walk. DeLeon finished 2-for-5 with two runs scored and was joined with two base hits by McKay and Michael Suiter.
In the Utes dugout, Tyler Relf went 3-for-6 and Anderson’s two RBI were a team high.
Kansas now turns its attention to the 2013 Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship in Oklahoma City where the Jayhawks will play as the No. 6 seed against No. 3-seeded West Virginia at 4 p.m. Wednesday. That game will be televised on Fox College Sports. Also on the Jayhawks’ side of the bracket are No. 2 seed Oklahoma State and No. 7 seed Texas Tech.