Ultimately, the final Big 12 baseball standings couldn’t have worked out much better for Kansas State. But for a moment on Saturday, things looked dire indeed.
After their series-opening win over TCU on Thursday, the BatCats found themselves in a five-run hole Friday from which they could not, despite a valiant effort, escape. A four-run second inning for TCU put K-State behind the eight ball, and Connor McCullough (5-4, 4.84) didn’t make it to the fifth inning. McCullough was the star of the staff for the first half of the season, let down repeatedly by his offense and defense, but his struggles over the second half have been on his own shoulder, so to speak. He’s only a redshirt freshman, so if it’s just a conditioning issue it may resolve itself naturally for the 2022 season.
After K-State plated two runs in the fifth on a Cole Johnson single, TCU extended their lead to 8-2 on a three-run Porter Brown homer. But the Cats suddenly slipped into fifth gear. A sixth-inning RBI single by Kamron Willman cut the lead to 8-3, and then in the seventh the Cats officially made a game of it. Dylan Phillips doubled in Dom Hughes, then Cameron Thompson tripled to drive in Phillips. Nick Goodwin then reached on an error, scoring Thompson.
And just like that, it was 8-6. Carson Seymour, so problematic as a starter all season, once again put in a phenomenal performance out of the bullpen with 3 2⁄3 innings of scoreless relief. But after K-State closed the gap, TCU got two innings of clean relief from their own bullpen, and held on for the win.
But the nature of the game would prove prophetic on Saturday.
Once again, TCU got four runs on the board with a quickness, this time in the top of the first. But in the bottom of the frame, homers by Thompson — who, by starting the game, tied Craig Wilson for most career starts in K-State history — and Phillips and a sacrifice fly by Goodwin evened the game at 4-4. Phillips’s homer tied him with Zach Kokoska for the team lead with 14.
TCU again built a four-run lead over the next eight innings, in the process ending Wildcat reliever Eric Torres’s scoreless streak at 19 2⁄3 innings, and entered the bottom of the ninth with a 8-4 lead and the Big 12 championship on the tips of their fingers, and even a one-out single by Caleb Littlejim probably didn’t have TCU concerned.
But then Johnson singled.
And Thompson doubled.
And Terrence Spurlin doubled.
And Phillips singled.
And the game was tied.
Goodwin popped out, then Kokoska singled but Phillips was forced to stop at second. Chris Ceballos stepped to the plate.
He pounded the first pitch over the fence in left field for his eleventh homer of the season. A walk-off homer for K-State, their first since — no, this is not a misprint — 2009. Tyler Eckberg (4-4), who pitched three scoreless innings to get K-State to the fateful ninth, got the win in the 11-8 decision.
It was a huge win for the BatCats (31-21, 10-14 Big 12), which for their part ensured that no matter what happened elsewhere they’d avoid the play-in game in Oklahoma City. For TCU (36-16, 17-7), a disaster as Texas finished their sweep of West Virginia and thereby claimed the top seed in the Big 12 championship by virtue of a series win over the Frogs.
The best news for K-State as they prepare for Oklahoma City is that by winning and by knocking TCU out of the top seed, the BatCats find themselves in a ridiculously favorable bracket grouping for a seven-seed. They’ll immediately face TCU again in the first round of the tournament on Wednesday; win or lose, they’ll get Texas Tech or Baylor on Thursday. They won the season series against two of the three teams, and they cannot possibly face Texas unless they reach the championship series.
This is a huge boost to K-State’s NCAA tournament chances. If the BatCats can get to Texas, they may not need to beat Texas, especially since to get to Texas they’re going to have to claim at least two more wins over ranked teams.
As for our friends at Frogs O’ War, well... Melissa Triebwasser is frustrated and confused.
And that’s actually all we have for you this fine Monday. That’s right, it’s almost June, which means you get to experience the confusion of a single-sport Monday Slate. But fear not; it’s About That Time, y’all. You know what we mean.
Note: We made a sloppy mistake and got Baylor and Oklahoma mixed up as the sixth seed. Story has been edited to take this into account.