OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Two weeks ago, Kansas possessed a six-game winning streak and appeared to be poised to earn an NCAA tournament bid.
The Jayhawks then proceeded to lose their next six games to close out the regular season. They came here for the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship needing a reversal in fortune.
Thursday Kansas was the fortunate ones, benefitting from timely hitting and a dominant pitching performance from starter Thomas Taylor. The sixth-seeded Jayhawks knocked off third-seeded West Virginia, 7-3, at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
"Well obviously anytime you're on a losing streak, in order to get things turned around, it starts with your starting pitcher," Kansas coach Ritch Price said. "Thomas Taylor gave us the starting effort we needed to have to get the lead early. He managed to hold them off and keep them at bay until we could keep at them offensively."
On Friday, West Virginia (31-26) will take on TCU at 4 p.m. followed by Kansas vs. Oklahoma State at 7:30 p.m.
Kansas (32-24) manufactured two runs in the first inning thanks to a leadoff double by Justin Protacio, two sacrifice bunts, a Mountaineers error and a two-out single by Dakota Smith.
Taylor struggled early and in the second inning West Virginia scored a run and had second and third with one out. But Taylor retired the next two hitters to work out of the jam. It was the start of 18 consecutive outs by the KU right hander.
"I struggled with my command the first couple innings, pretty much trying to throw too hard, but after that I settled down and just tried to pitch to contact," said Taylor, who is now 6-2 on the season.
His replacement followed the "pitch to contact" strategy to escape West Virginia's final threat. The Mountaineers loaded the bases with one out and Price called on reliever Jordan Piche', the Big 12 newcomer of the year and leader in saves.
Piche' was facing Ryan McBroom, the top home run hitter in the Big 12. On a 3-1 count, McBroom lined a screamer toward second but Protacio dove to his right to make the catch, then flipped to shortstop Kevin Kuntz to double Jacob Rice off second.
Kansas finished the game with 12 hits, the most in the last 11 games and scored five runs in the last three innings to ease the late-inning tension.
The Mountaineers have been in the state of Oklahoma long enough to establish residency. They started their final regular-season series at Oklahoma State a week ago, then traveled to Oklahoma City Sunday. They witnessed the tragic tornado that tore through nearby Moore on Monday, then helped with the recovery efforts.
"We teach our guys all the time to avoid distractions and we have been here a long time," WVU coach Randy Mazey said. "The community service work had no part in what happened today on the field. I think this week is going to be etched in the minds of everyone here on our team for the rest of their lives.
"I told these guys 15 to 20 years from now we will look back at this tournament and we won't remember the scores of the games, but we will remember what we could hopefully do to help some of the people in Moore."