OKLAHOMA CITY — Texas earned a day off on Thursday night. Sort of.
The Longhorns jumped out to an early lead and rode Nolan Kingham’s complete-game effort to hold off Kansas in a 5-4 win at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. The win kept Texas (36-20) unbeaten at the Big 12 tournament, a 2-0 start that means the Longhorns won’t play again until Saturday, when they’ll face either TCU or Kansas.
The Longhorns will hold a 90-minute workout at an area high school, Texas coach David Pierce said.
“I think it’s good to get some rest,” Texas junior Jake McKenzie said. “Probably hit some balls in the cage tomorrow and we’ll be ready to go on Saturday.”
Texas quickly found the scoreboard Thursday night; the first four batters that Texas sent to the plate in the second inning ended up scoring, as the Longhorns collected four hits and took advantage of a Kansas error.
Scoring early runs has become a recent habit for the Longhorns. On Wednesday, UT scored five times over the first three innings in an 8-4 win over Oklahoma. In Sunday’s 9-4 regular-season finale win over West Virginia, Texas jumped out to a 4-0 lead before its first out was even recorded.
Texas turned those early leads into four- and five-run wins over the Sooners and Mountaineers. Kansas, however, rallied on Thursday.
The Jayhawks (30-27) got two runs back in the fourth inning before falling further behind 5-2 in the sixth, but nearly came back again in the ninth. With two outs in the final inning, Jaxx Groshans hit a two-run home run off Kingham to make it 5-4. In the very next at-bat, David Kyriacou ended the game with a deep fly out to right field.
“As far as just trying to have a big inning where we score a few runs and try to put it all together in one inning, wasn’t able to do it tonight,” Kansas shortstop Matt McLaughlin said. “You’ve got to tip your cap to how well of a game (Kingham) pitched.”
— Big 12 Digital (@Big12DN) May 26, 2017
Kingham earned his conference-best ninth win of the year. (Texas Tech sophomore Steven Gingery also won his ninth game on Thursday). Two of Kingham’s wins have come at Kansas’ expense.
On March 31, he threw seven innings of four-hit baseball in a 5-3 win. He allowed seven hits on Thursday, but didn’t walk any Jayhawks. Kingham, throwing his sinker, slider and fastball, struck out seven.
“I just had to stay with what I knew,” said Kingham, who was placed on the Big 12’s all-conference team Tuesday. “Just keep pounding the strike zone, and I knew my defense would take care of it. Luckily my offense took care of a four-run lead, so I had a cushion for a while.”
The decisive run, however, ended up coming from an unlikely source. McKenzie, pinch-hitting for Patrick Mathis in the sixth inning, delivered an RBI double to push Texas’ lead to 5-2.
McKenzie had been hitting .077 this season, but Pierce said he’s one of the team’s best contact hitters. At the time, Texas had runners on second and third with one out. On the fifth pitch thrown by lefty reliever Chase Kaplan, McKenzie made Pierce’s gamble pay off.
Rounding the bases: One of the nation’s top defenses, Texas now has 61 double plays in 2017. Tulane, which was coached by Pierce from 2015-16, opened the day with an NCAA-leading 64 double plays. … Before leaving the game in the top of the ninth, UT outfielder Zane Gurwitz was 2 for 3 with two walks. … Kansas starter Jackson Goddard, who entered the game with a 4.24 ERA and a 5-3 record, surrendered five runs and eight hits over 5.1 innings. Two of those runs were unearned thanks to his own fielding error. … Texas outhit Kansas 11-7 but stranded 12 runners.