OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – While every team in postseason play believes they can win a trophy, the reality is different.
Kansas, the No. 7 seed in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship, didn't assure its place in the eight-team bracket until the final weekend of the regular season. The Jayhawks' chances of winning the title and the NCAA tournament automatic bid are slim. But different teams have different missions.
"For our younger guys we think it's a really important thing that they experience Bricktown," Kansas coach Ritch Price said. "The level of competition and the pressure you face when you are trying to make a clutch pitch, a clutch play or get a clutch out.
"It's part of that growing process."
The growth continued Thursday. The Jayhawks, facing elimination, turned in a performance that was equal parts skillful and gritty. Kansas jumped to an early three-run lead playing small ball and then got solid pitching from two freshmen to defeat third-seeded Texas, 4-2.
Kansas (23-33) gets to hang around for another day. At 7 p.m. Friday, the Jayhawks will face No. 2 seed Texas A&M, which lost to Missouri 5-3 in the last game played Thursday.
Freshman Wes Benjamin allowed one run in six innings and reliever Robert Kihana worked the final three innings, also allowing a single run. Both KU pitchers worked through a lot of Texas traffic on the bases. The Longhorns put the leadoff runner on base in four consecutive innings but failed to get a clutch hit.
"I was working pretty well today," Benjamin said. "I noticed in the bullpen I wasn't as sharp as I would normally like to be. We got out of a couple of key situations we needed to get out of."
The Jayhawks earned their first Big 12 tournament victory since 2006, when they downed Nebraska in the championship round as well as their first postseason win over Texas in three tries.
The loss eliminated Texas (30-22) from the Big 12 Championship. Over the last three years of the event, the Longhorns are 2-6 in OKC.
"Tournament play is about getting hot at the right time, and we didn't do that," Texas coach Audie Garrido said. "The game was decided by the first inning when they scored three runs on two bunts. That's why we like to bunt, and that's what it does to the defense. They got a timely hit to end up with three in that inning."