Kansas fans erupted as the Jayhawks delivered a two-run homer to cut Texas’ lead to 5-4 with two outs in the ninth inning.
But as sophomore pitcher Nolan Kingham stepped back onto the mound immediately following Kansas’ two-run shot, he knew he couldn’t go away from what he’d been doing all game – and he didn’t.
In the following at-bat, the right-hander forced a two-out fly out to deep right field, sealing a complete game and No. 6-seeded Texas’ second round 5-4 victory over No. 7-seeded Kansas.
“I just had to stay with what I knew and just keep pounding the strike zone,“ Kingham said. “I knew my defense would take care of it.”
Before the Longhorns’ narrow victory, some sense of normalcy returned to Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in the second day of the Big 12 tournament.
One day after No. 1-seeded Texas Tech and No. 2-seeded TCU fell victim to first round upsets, the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs both returned to their winning ways by eliminating No. 5-seeded Baylor and No. 3-seeded Oklahoma.
However, one thing remained a constant: Texas’ early offensive explosions.
As the Longhorns found themselves under the lights in Oklahoma City for the second-straight night, they relied on a four-run second inning to push them ahead early on, but it was a bench player who came up big at the plate.
After Kansas cut the lead in half in the fourth, Pierce decided to go to junior Jake McKenzie to pinch hit for leadoff hitter Patrick Mathis, and it paid off. McKenzie ripped an RBI double off the left field wall, extending Texas’ lead to 5-2 in the sixth.
“Jake is one of our best contact guys, and that’s what we needed in that situation,” Pierce said. “Patrick has been great for us. He had two hits on the night going into that at-bat, but I just liked that matchup. I liked Jake’s confidence in that situation, and he did a great job coming off the bench.”
McKenzie’s timely RBI proved to be the extra insurance run Texas needed to withstand Kansas’ late-game rally and escape with the 5-4 win.
“It was just a great team win,” head coach David Pierce said. “We did a great job offensively early to build the lead. Then we had great pitching from Nolan all night.”
Now, rather than reserving a date with TCU on Friday night, which is what a loss would have done, the Longhorns’ win gives them the luxury of having Friday off as they await the winner of TCU and Kansas.
But that didn’t appear to be on the minds of Texas fans as they celebrated the Longhorn victory by chanting Nolan Kingham’s name, who just finished striking out seven with zero walks in his 115-pitch complete game.
The 5-4 win improves him to 9–0 on the year, which is now tied for the first in Big 12 wins. However, even a complete game couldn’t protect him from coach Pierce’s post-game tease.
“What are you doing up here?” Pierce asked once he saw the sophomore sitting in front of the media at the press conference late Thursday night following his dominant performance.
But Kingham didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he responded by jokingly asking his coach the same thing.