Kansas State relievers Gerardo Esquivel and Jake Matthys were there when Kansas State needed them the most Sunday night.
The two combined to toss 6 1/3 shutout innings of relief to close the door on Arkansas and hand the Wildcats a 4-3 win in the NCAA Regional final at Tointon Family Stadium.
Esquivel got in the game, perhaps, earlier than expected when starter Blake McFadden struggled early and faced a quick 3-0 deficit after the first inning. But he was cool under the lights and the pressure of the big stage.
The junior righty allowed just one hit, no runs, one walk and struck out one in 4 1/3 innings and received the win.
Matthys, the Big 12 freshman of the year, notched his ninth save of the season after he relieved Nate Williams in the eighth. In two innings on the hill, Matthys gave up two hits, no runs, no walks and had one strikeout.
“I think we’ve been picking each other up all year,” Matthys said. “It just wasn’t Blake’s (McFadden) day. Hopefully next weekend, he will have another good outing because he has been pretty consistent for us. I’ve had bad days. Everybody has that bad day, so he just needed the rest of the bullpen to pick him up today.”
Esquivel said the pressured situations his team found itself in against the Razorbacks — especially after Arkansas’ quick 3-0 jump — didn’t derail the Wildcats’ focus.
“We’ve been in this situation before and I knew that if I gave my guys a chance by putting up four zeroes, it would give our guys that chance (to come back),” he said. “Our offense prides themselves on never giving in and they didn’t do that today. They just came through. I gave us a chance, handed the ball off to Nate (Williams) and he did a very good job in the eighth inning and then Jake (Matthys) finished it off.”
K-State head coach Brad Hill said the cool heads of his pitchers was a strength against a strong opponent.
“Gerardo was (cool) tonight,” Hill said. “We’ve been telling him just to breathe… sometimes he thinks too much and gets himself into trouble. But, tonight, he just grabbed the baseball, threw it and believed in what he was doing.
“He was the hero for us.”
As far as Matthys, Hill spoke of him as a freshman who doesn’t seem very freshman-like.
“He’s just a tough kid,” he said. “You don’t find many like that, and we are fortunate he’s here. He handles failure extremely well — there hasn’t been many of those this year — but when he does he sharpens down, goes back to work and it doesn’t seem to effect him the next time out. He has a great ability to just learn from it, flush it, and it’s gone.
“At the beginning of the year, we told the guys if you want it to go get it. He said he wanted to be the closer all year and then he goes out there and backs up what he talks about, and that’s pretty special.”
Matthys was just as cool with the post-game excitement as he was on the hill when he held off Arkansas in the bottom of the ninth with a slim one-run lead and a regional title on the line.
“I think the whole season got me prepared for it,” Matthys said. “It’s a game of baseball. Yeah, it was really exciting and everything and there were a lot of fans, but it all comes down to it just being a game of baseball.”