In a season filled with negatives at every turn for the Kansas State baseball team, head coach Brad Hill called Friday night’s no-hit loss to No. 19 Texas the lowest of the low.
Perhaps that’s what made Saturday’s 5-4 walk-off victory over the Longhorns on senior night so special, as the Wildcats came up with four hits in the bottom of the ninth inning to turn a two-run deficit into a win and give themselves the chance to win their second Big 12 series Sunday in the series finale.
“The biggest thing was there was no emotion, no passion (Friday) night - guys were just here,” Hill said. “They were just zombies out on the field, I asked them to play baseball the way you remember.
“We just haven’t been doing that, today they did, but a lot of that had to do with the seniors and how they led by example tonight.”
K-State (25-29, 5-18 Big 12) got a one-out double from Austin Fisher down the left field line and into the corner to score Taylor Anderson and Ross Kivett and end the game in walk-off fashion. The celebration immediately ensued at home plate for a group of players that haven’t had much to cheer about this season and were mathematically eliminated from any chance at the postseason last weekend.
“We cleared (Friday’s game) and played really tough,” Kivett said. “Everyone was involved tonight and played their guts out for the seniors and I appreciate that. Fisher, to bounce back from some really good at-bats where nothing fell, then to have that hit - that’s clutch.”
K-State’s R.J. Santigate battled through a long at-bat for a base hit to left field to lead off the ninth, with Anderson following with a hit up the middle that moved Santigate to third on the hit-and-run, giving K-State runners at the corners with nobody out facing Texas reliever John Curtiss (1-1), who took the loss.
Kivett followed with an RBI single just beyond the reach of the first baseman to make it 4-3, still with nobody out.
After a failed sacrifice bunt attempt, Fisher’s hit ended the game with one out in the ninth.
Hill said the tough season, especially the 4-18 mark in Big 12 play, was wearing on his team.
“It’s been weighing for a while, trust me,” he said. “You could see it last night, it couldn’t get much lower than it did last night, so again, a lot of credit to our kids coming out today and competing and battling like they did.”
The day was especially hard for K-State starter Jared Moore, whose mother Molly Moore died during his time in Manhattan. Moore turned in one of the best starts of his career, going seven innings while allowing just six hits and two earned runs.
“I can’t speak enough about Jared Moore and what he’s been through,” Kivett said. “And the way he pitched today was just incredible.”
Levi MaVorhis (6-7) came on in relief after Moore gave up a leadoff homer to Texas catcher Tres Barrera, earning the win with a pair of scoreless innings to go with four strikeouts to keep the Longhorns within arm’s reach.
Texas (35-16, 12-11) starter Nathan Thornhill pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing just one run and four hits, before handing the ball to the bullpen.
Early in the game, K-State got on the board first without the aid of a hit.
Max Brown led off the inning with a walk, stealing second before taking third base and scoring on two different pitches that got away from Barrera.
The Wildcats broke up a streak of 11 straight no-hit innings against the Longhorns with Kivett’s one-out single in the bottom of the third, but left him on stranded at second base.
The Longhorns took the lead in the fourth, scoring three runs with the aid of the K-State defense, which committed two errors sandwiched around a walk. Designated hitter Madison Carter came up with the big hit for Texas with a two-RBI single to make it 3-1 in favor of the Longhorns.
K-State cut the lead to one in the bottom of the seventh inning with Blair DeBord hitting a leadoff single and scoring on Kivett’s two-out double.
But Texas came right back in the eighth, chasing Moore with a leadoff solo home run by Barrera to make it 4-2. C. J. Hinojosa hit a one-out double off MaVorhis, but the sophomore struck out the next two batters he faced to end the threat.
K-State got a leadoff from single from Brown, who stole second and third to move himself into scoring position to start the eighth, but left him there with two strikeouts and a groundout.
Hill said his team deserved to win on senior night.
“There’s no question they deserved it,” he said. “And they earned it out on the field with the win.”
Moore said the team enjoyed a win similar to last year’s walk-off victory that secured the team’s first Big 12 title in 80 years. The team secured the championship on May 17 of last year.
“In a season where not a lot went right for us, to be able to do what we did last year, and re-enact that again tonight on this night, is very special,” Moore said. “I’m proud of the team for pulling it through.”