It may not have been the first game of the season, but it was an important step for a young Wildcats baseball squad as the Kansas State Wildcats earn their first victory of the season 6-5 over the Virginia Tech Hokies.
It was a tough start to the season, facing two ranked opponents in their first two games and a third who has been a Top-25 team the last few years. Last Friday’s season opener saw the Cats fall 12-5 to the #17 South Alabama Jaguars, in a game the Cats led through the bottom of the 5th inning. Saturday’s opponent, the 17th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers, kept the Cats’ bats silent, notching a 5-0 victory. But on Sunday, things started to look for the Wildcats as they took the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, the 2016 College World Series champions, to extra innings before falling 4-3.
Today’s game didn’t start out well for either team, as the game was delayed for two hours due to stormy weather in Myrtle Beach, SC. But once it got started, the BatCats took a quick lead in the bottom of the first thanks to two errors on the Hokies and a steal by lead-off man Will Brennan.
Two innings of 3-up-3-down for both teams followed, before K-State starter Quinton Potter, a true freshman making his first start, gave up the only two runs of his otherwise solid 5.0-inning performance in the top of the fourth to give Virginia Tech a 2-1 advantage. The Cats were unable to pull in in the bottom half of the fourth or fifth, and a solid sixth in relief by junior Brogan Heinan kept the Hokies from pushing their advantage. But the Cats finally came back as a solo homerun by newcomer Rainer Ausmus, his first hit as a Wildcat, in the bottom of the sixth tied the game at 2-2.
Then things started to look down for the Wildcats. Senior Hudson Treu came in to start the seventh and gave up a solo homerun to the first Hokie batter he faced. Then a fielding error, a sacrific bunt, and a wild pitch put the next runner to third where a fielder’s choice scored the Hokies second run of the 7th. Treu was then pulled in favor of sophomore Tyler Eckberg, who recorded the final two outs of the inning with a pick-off throw and groundout, but not before allowing another un-earned run thanks to a couple singles and a wild pitch. Headed into the bottom of the 7th, the Cats were facing familiar territory down 5-2.
The Cats went down in order in the bottom of the 7th, and the top of the 8th did not start well for Eckberg who, under worsening weather conditions, struck-out his first batter swinging, but the strike-three pitch went wild and the runner still reached. Eckberg threw another wild pitch advancing the runner before he could record an out, then another wild pitch sent the runner to third before recording out number two. A ground-out to third ended the threat for the Cats.
Saving that run may have turned the fortunes for the Wildcats. The Cats started the bottom of the 8th with a strike-out swinging, before freshman Brett Owen reached on, and advanced to second a error. Then Brennan knocked a single through the right side that scored Owen and brought the Cats within 5-3. Senior Jake Biller flied out in the next at-bat, then sophomore Cam Thompson knocked a single up the middle two get two Cats on for newcomer Drew Mount. Mount put his first hit as a Wildcat over the right field wall to give the Cats a 6-5 advantage. Senior Hanz Harker attempted to keep the run going with a follow-up single and a subsequent steal, but freshman John Sorensen struck-out looking to end the threat.
Eckberg finished the game for the Wildcats, and recorded two outs before giving up two consecutive singles to put the Hokies in scoring position. But a fly-out by the Hokies best hitter sealed the much-needed victory for the Wildcats.
In an interesting note, the Brad Hill and the Wildcats faced off against John Szefc, who was Hill’s chief assistant during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Szefc left K-State to take over the top spot at Maryland for the 2013 before taking over at Virginia Tech prior to the start of the 2018 season.
The Wildcats, who are now 1-3 on the season, will next head north to Elon, NC to face Elon University on Wednesday, before then heading further north to Fairfax, VA to take on Old Dominion in a weekend series before heading back to Manhattan.