The final score didn't look that impressive, but the Wildcat pitching staff spent eight innings just trying to throw strikes and force Wichita State to hit the ball. It was a strategy which (a) worked and (b) mostly preserved the bullpen, most critically closer Jake Matthys.
Trouble struck early for the Wildcats as Levi Mavorhis issued walks to Tanner Deaman and Garrett Bayliff to start the inning. Tyler Baker grounded to second, but Ross Kivett mishandled the ball and was only able to retire Baker at first; the runners advanced. Casey Gillaspie then grounded one up the middle; had Mavorhis been able to glove it, Deaman would have been DOA at the plate, but it got past him. Austin Fisher was able to retire Gillaspie, but the run scored. A double by Johnny Coy plated Bayliff, and Mikel Mucha ripped a single to left which would have scored the third run if not for a dead strike to the plate from Tanner Witt; Coy ran right into catcher Blake DeBord, who sent Coy ass-over-elbows while applying the tag for the third out.
The Cats then stepped to the plate and did Catly things. Kivett and Witt singled, and after Shane Conlon struck out, Jared King drew a walk to load the sacks. Jon Davis, the Alaskan monster with the epic porn 'stache, ripped a single to right to score two runs and tie the game. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, and then Mitch Meyer beat out a chopper on the right side, allowing King to cross the plate. With a full count on DeBord, Cale Elam picked Meyer off first, but during the ensuing rundown the ball got away from Shocker 2B Deaman. Meyer was able to get back to first, but more importantly Davis dashed across the plate to make it 4-2 in favor of the Wildcats. Elam then hit DeBord, and Gene Stephenson had clearly had enough, calling to the bullpen for Albert Minnis.
Meyer and DeBord executed the double steal on the first pitch from Minnis; his second pitch went to the backstop but rebounded to hold the runners. R.J. Santigate popped out to short for the second out, but then Austin Fisher -- who missed the final three games of the Big 12 tournament with back issues -- laced a single to left to drive in both runners. Kivett reached on a bunt single, and Witt drove in Fisher with a rip to right on a hit-and-run. Then Conlon got hit by a pitch to load the bases for King; he drew a walk to force in the eighth run of the inning. That led to another pitching change, Zach Beringer coming into face Davis -- who was getting his second bases-loaded plate appearance of the inning. Davis walked, scoring another run, and then Meyer grounded out to first to mercifully end the inning.
Both sides came up empty in the second, but the Shockers trimmed the lead in the third. Bayliff led off with a walk and moved to third on a Baker double. Jared Moore came on to replace MaVorhis and gave up a two-run double to Gillaspie before getting out of the inning. The Cats turned right around and got them both back in the home half, however. Witt singled and moved up on a walk to Conlon. King grounded into a 6-3 double play, with Witt moving to third, and Davis was hit by a pitch. Meyer then doubled into the gap in left center, scoring both runners to give the Cats an 11-4 lead.
More runs in the fourth for the Cats. Santigate led off with a single and stole second; Fisher doubled down the left field line to knock him in. The Cats managed to load the bases with one out, but Conlon hit into a double play to end the threat.
Wichita State fought back again in the fifth. Bayliff struck out swinging at a wild pitch and reached first. Baker doubled and, after Gillaspie popped out to first, Coy ripped a double to the wall in right center to clear the bases. Mucha singled through the hole between short and third, and that was it for Moore as Jordan Witcig came in; he immediately induced a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of Micah Green.
And yet again, the Cats answered. King was hit by a pitch and stole second, then moved to third when Davis grounded out to first. He then scored on what would have been strike three to Meyer, but was instead called a balk. After five, it was 13-6.
The parade continued in the sixth. The Shockers made it 13-7 when Eric Harbutz walked, stole second, and scored on a Dearman double. The Cats answered when Fisher drew a walk and Kivett launched a homer over the left-center fence. After the homer, K-State loaded the bases; Witt and Conlon singled and King walked, setting up a sacrifice fly from Davis.
Kivett launched his second homer of the day, pretty much right where the first one had gone, with a runner on in the seventh to extend the lead to 18-7. That runner was Lance Miles, who came in to run for Fisher; this would become relevant in the eighth as Miles was unable to turn two grounders to short into outs, then airmailed a throw to first with two down and runners on second and third, letting the Shockers get two runs back.
Yes, of course the Cats scored in the eighth. Conlon was hit by a pitch, and after King flew out Davis doubled down the left field line. Meyer was hit by a pitch as well, loading the bases; DeBord ripped a single to left, scoring two more Wildcats.
The Cats emptied the bench for the ninth, leaving only four starters in the batting order. The Shockers again pecked away; Gillaspie walked and Joe Haddox got plunked before Mucha flew out. A wild pitch moved the runners up, and Cody Bobbit singled to drive them in, but that was all they could muster. K-State had won what looked like a shootout, but wasn't really.
It's easy to look at the eleven runs K-State allowed and be concerned, but don't panic. The strength of the bullpen either wasn't utilized or was effective in their stints; most of the damage was against guys the Cats won't be relying on in critical situations. Also, they were pitching to contact with such a huge lead, so the fact that the Shockers scored some runs isn't an unexpected result.
Tomorrow, the Cats will play at 7pm CT against the winner of tonight's Arkansas-Bryant game.