Forgive Brad Hill for dismissing the record he tied Tuesday night in his Kansas State squad’s 3-2 win over New Mexico.
The win was Hill’s 435th at K-State, tying former coach Mike Clark for the all-time record at the school, but at the helm of a Wildcat club struggling to find consistency this season, Hill has his mind set on this year alone.
“Somebody brought that up,” Hill said with a laugh. “I’m way more concerned about getting a lot more wins this year.”
After a 12-10 win in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, certainly two victories in one day don’t hurt.
Hill’s record-tying win didn’t arrive easily, however. After K-State (19-18, 2-10 Big 12) used a bases-loaded walk from left fielder Will Brennan in the second inning to earn its first run, New Mexico’s Hayden Schilling boomed a solo home run over the right-field fence to tie things at 1-all.
The tie didn’t last long.
Josh Ethier and Brennan each smacked RBIs in the fourth frame — the former via groundout, the latter via single — for a 3-1 lead.
Catcher Connor Rule’s single set the stage for Ethier’s groundout.
Rule’s shot down the rightfield line came on a 1-2 count, and Hill lauded the hit.
“Connor Rule — great at-bat,” Hill said. “Just staying over by the ball, hitting that ball into right field. I thought that was a great at-bat by him. It’s something he’s been working really hard on, and he’s improving at it.”
Rule made outs in his next two at-bats of the game, as was the theme for both teams after the fourth inning. But the Wolfpack may have thrown a wrench into things if not for K-State’s pitching.
Starter Kasey Ford secured the win and tossed four innings, allowing one run on five hits while striking out three.
The freshman gave way to Luke Hauswirth in the fifth. Hauswirth sat down New Mexico (20-17-1) in order in the first two innings, but had trouble in the seventh.
An inning that began innocuously — Hauswirth retired the inning’s first two batters — ended anything but. With a chance to secure a quiet inning, Hauswirth hit Justin Watari, and after Danny Collier reached on an infield single, Hill lifted Hauswirth for Nick Jones, who promptly served up an RBI single to Jared Mang. The one-run hit pulled the Wolfpack to 3-2. K-State didn’t make much noise in the bottom half of the inning, and New Mexico looked headed in the same direction in the top of the eighth. Jones sat down the first two Wolfpack hitters before walking Schilling.
Andre Vigil followed with a double, a screamer that bounced out to the left-field wall. Schilling appeared to have a good shot at scoring from first base, but he held at third.
That’s all the fortune K-State needed. Hill replaced Jones with reliever Tyler Eckberg, who got pinch-hitter Austin Bell to ground out and end the threat.
“We got a couple breaks,” Hill said. “We maybe deserve a couple breaks right now, too.”
The last such break came in the ninth, when Watari rocketed a line drive off Eckberg’s glove. The baseball bounced to shortstop Quintin Crandall, who whizzed it to first in time for the out. After that, it was smooth
sailing. Collier grounded out, and Eckberg whipped a fastball past Mang for the final out of the contest. New Mexico had myriad chances — namely the seventh and eighth innings, and even in the fourth, after Schilling’s homer — but K-State had its pitching to thank for keeping the lead. Hauswirth’s 2 2/3-inning, two-strikeout outing was just his fourth appearance all season.
“Just comes in pumping strikes, spinning his breaking ball for a strike,” Hill said of Hauswirth. “Great composure for a young guy who hasn’t been out there very much. “It was about the pitching this second ballgame, no question.”
K-State now faces a three-game set with West Virginia (21-13, 8-4) beginning Friday. “We (don’t) play Wednesday,” he said, “so you have Wednesday to kind of (recuperate) and get everybody ready to go for this weekend. Not a bad thing.”