In most tournaments, regardless of the sport, the best teams, the ones awarded the high seeds when the brackets are formed, are the teams expected to meet up in the end in the championship final. This doesn't always work out, of course, and for the lower-seeded teams, that "on any given day" ray of hope is what makes it all worthwhile.
Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State were the lowest-seeded teams entering the
Big 12 Baseball Championship in Oklahoma City this week. That means none of the three local teams was expected to make it beyond their guaranteed two games in the double-elimination tournament. Kansas and Kansas State weren't even sure of making it into the tournament at this time last week.
This year's Championship started off as projected with top-seeded Baylor easily handling K-State for the fourth time this season and Kansas losing to Texas A&M, the No. 2 seed, on the opening day Wednesday. Missouri, the tournament's sixth seed, pulled off the biggest shocker of the first round, defeating Texas 4-2 and advancing to the winner's bracket in the second round.
On Thursday, the tournament brackets were completely blown up. The lower-seeded team prevailed in each of the four games on Thursday. Two teams (Oklahoma State and Texas) were eliminated from the Championship in Thursday's action, leaving six teams still alive for the quarterfinals on Friday, including seventh-seeded Kansas and the No. 8 seed, Kansas State. Meanwhile Missouri is one of only two teams, along with Oklahoma, that is still unbeaten through two games. As a result, the Tigers and Sooners do not play again until Saturday.
On Thursday, Kansas State eliminated Oklahoma State with an 11-5 win, Kansas then surprised Texas 4-2, knocking the Longhorns out of the Championship, and Missouri upset Texas A&M 5-3 to complete the second round. In between, Oklahoma squeaked by No. 1 seed Baylor for the Sooners fourth consecutive win over the Bears in less than a month.
The big question on Friday is: Can the Jayhawks and the Wildcats reverse their opening-round losses to Texas A&M and Baylor, respectively, in their elimination games against the tournament's top two seeds. An extremely tall order, but the way things have been going in this year's Big 12 Championship, I wouldn't rule it out.
For Kansas to beat Texas A&M, the odds are very high that the Jayhawks are going to have to score more than the four runs a game that they have averaged this season. KU did score four times against the Aggies on Wednesday, but the Aggies tallied seven times, one above their season average. The Jayhawks also are hoping to win back-to-back tournament games for the first time since 2006. To do so, however, they will have to beat one of the best pitchers in the Big 12 in A&M's Ross Stripling, who owns a 10-2 record on the season.
All four games this season between Kansas State and Baylor have been high-scoring, with the Bears outscoring the Wildcats 42-30. In two of the game, the two teams combined for 49 runs and the contests were decided by just three runs total. K-State will be hoping to keep the score close, which will give the Cats their best chance against the Big 12 regular-season champion.
Just to fantasize for a moment, if Kansas and Kansas State were somehow able to survive Friday's quarterfinals, that would leave the two Kansas schools, Missouri and Oklahoma (the No. 6, 7 and 8 seeds and the No. 4 seed) to vie for the championship. That would mark the first time all three local schools advanced to the semifinal round in Big 12 history, not to mention that they are the three lowest seeds, which also would be a Championship first.
Looking ahead to Saturday, Oklahoma awaits the winner of Baylor vs. Kansas State, and Missouri will play the winner of the game between Kansas and Texas A&M.
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