OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Win and you're in.
Those are the four words that teams like to hear at this time of year. For Kansas, those four words have double meaning.
A six-game winning streak appeared to put the Jayhawks on the doorstep of an NCAA at-large bid but a six-game losing streak to end the regular season undid much of that work. KU, though, has come here and is now in position to not only deserve at-large consideration but is two victories away from locking down a spot in the 64-team field.
The sixth-seeded Jayhawks are 2-0 in Pool Two of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship following Friday night's 5-3 victory over Oklahoma State. If Kansas (33-24) defeats No. 7 seed TCU (7:30 p.m. Saturday) it will play in Sunday's championship game with the Conference's automatic bid going to the winner.
"We have our work cut out for us," KU coach Ritch Price said, "but we control our own destiny."
That's because Friday night the Jayhawks got some clutch pitching to counter Cowboys scoring chances and their offense was efficient and timely.
Starter Wes Benjamin, reliever Frank Duncan and closer Jordan Piche', the Big 12 newcomer of the year, limited Oklahoma State (39-16) to six hits. They walked nine but the Jayhawks turned two double plays and the Cowboys left 12 runners stranded.
"We can't leave guys in scoring position," Oklahoma State outfielder Zach Fish said. "It's clutch hitting and that's part of the game of baseball. I think the majority of the time we are going to drive those guys in."
The Jayhawks trailed 3-2 going into the bottom of the seventh against Oklahoma State starter Tyler Nurdin. They tied the game in unlikely fashion.
Center fielder Tucker Tharp, the No. 9 hitter in the order, smacked his first homer of the year to left center to tie the game.
"I worked him to 3-2 and I knew he had to come after me with something," said Tharp, who connected for just the third homer that Nurdin has allowed. "I sat back on it and tried to put a good swing on it and fortunately it left the yard."
Michael Suiter's run-scoring single took advantage of an Oklahoma State error to add another run and give Kansas a 4-3 lead. The Jayhawks added an insurance run on a double play grounder in the eighth.
"It was a great win," Price said. "We beat one of the best left-handers in the country (Nurdin). He entered the game with an ERA under two and I was really pleased with the way our guys grinded out at-bats and we got some huge, clutch hits."
Oklahoma State is 0-2 in Pool Two and the only team that is mathematically eliminated from playing in Sunday's championship game. The Cowboys, who likely have earned an NCAA at-large bid, will face West Virginia at 4 p.m.
"We didn't play a particularly clean game and some of our mistakes cost us," said Oklahoma State coach Josh Holliday, whose team committed three errors and allowed two unearned runs. "We have to play more fundamentally sound. That has been our formula for success and we have to get back to doing those things well again."