OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Thomas Taylor's 157th pitch was one of his most economical. It produced a game-ending double play with the tying run at first base and assured No. 7 seed Kansas another game in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship.
Taylor's first complete game along with timely hitting helped the Jayhawks (24-33) defeat No. 2 seed Texas A&M, 5-3, Friday night. Kansas was sent to the loser's bracket after an opening-round loss to the Aggies but have survived by knocking off No. 3 seed Texas and turning the tables on the Aggies (42-16).
Next up for the Jayhawks is one more Border Showdown. Kansas will face Missouri at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. If the Jayhawks win, they'll play a second game for the right to play in Sunday's championship game. The Tigers can advance to Sunday if they beat KU. The Jayhawks took two of three from Missouri to end the regular season. With Mizzou headed to the Southeastern Conference, the rivalry's future is in doubt.
"I don't think you can script it any better for us," Kansas coach Ritch Price said. "It's been one of the greatest rivalries in college sports. If it's going to be the final time we play them as members of the Big 12 Conference there is going to be a lot at stake and I think that's how every Jayhawk would want it to be."
Missouri defeated Texas A&M Thursday to earn a day off Friday. Taylor noted how the Tigers' pitchers attacked the Aggies' hitters.
"Yesterday when Missouri beat them they were just attacking them with fastballs the whole game, and that was our game plan today," he said. "My arm felt great, I think the humidity helped keep me loose. I just wanted to go out there and keep throwing until he came and got me since it could have been our last game of the year."
Taylor gave up two runs in the first but Kansas got a spark when Dakota Smith hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the second to even the score. In the fourth, Jordan Dreiling's two-run triple into the left field corner put the Jayhawks ahead to stay.
"I've been coaching 34 years and never had a kid throw 150 pitches," Price said of Taylor, who allowed seven hits and struck out nine. "He's trying to play professional baseball, he's got a huge stage out there tonight and the game is on the line. If we were going to lose it, he was going to be the guy to throw the last pitch."
The Aggies put the first two runners on in the top of the ninth but leadoff hitter Mikey Reynolds fouled out to the catcher attempting to bunt the runners over. Tyler Naquin, who led the Big 12 in hits, roped a one-hopper to Dreiling who started the game-ending 4-6-3 double play.
"In baseball, you have to have a short memory," Naquin said. "Everyone has a short memory in our dugout. We'll just have a good couple days of practice and get ready for the NCAAs."