MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — A six-run fourth inning that was highlighted by Wade Hinkle’s first career grand slam and a tremendous effort out of the bullpen by Gerardo Esquivel sent the Kansas State baseball team to a 9-5 victory over Minnesota Tuesday night at the Metrodome.
The Wildcats, who moved to 10-6 on the season, earned their first win at Minnesota in four tries and won for just the second time in nine games against the Golden Gophers. Minnesota fell to 7-9 with the loss.
Hinkle, who was 2-for-5 with a career-best five RBIs, recorded the big hit in the fourth after the two teams played to a 3-3 tie through three innings. The Wildcat fourth inning began with a one-out hit batter before a Ross Kivett single put runners on first and second. Tanner Witt followed with a two-run double into the left-center field gap to put K-State up, 5-3.
Witt’s double proved to be the end of Minnesota starter DJ Snelten (0-1) as the Gophers brought in Ty McDevitt. The right-hander walked Jared King and hit Blair DeBord to load the bases, setting up the matchup with Hinkle. On a 1-2 pitch, the senior pulled an inside fastball over the elevated wall in right-field to give K-State a 9-3 lead.
It was the first career grand slam by Hinkle and the first by a Wildcat since Jason King hit one against Northern Colorado on March 30.
But Hinkle’s grand slam was the final run scored by K-State as the Wildcats only recorded three hits over the final five innings against Gopher pitching.
“We really had a great approach for four innings,” K-State coach Brad Hill said. “After the grand slam, we shut it down and put the win in our hip pocket. Minnesota had momentum on its side and was a hit away from making it interesting in the ninth inning.
“We have to learn to put people away, and we did not put them away.”
Although the Wildcats came up empty over the final half of the game, they were the beneficiary of a career-long outing by Esquivel (1-1). The right-hander entered the game with two runs home and one out in the third inning of a 3-3 game and induced an inning-ending double play to get out of a bases-loaded jam.
The Chicago, Ill., product cruised from there as he faced the minimum over the next four innings. Esquivel lasted a career-long 5 2/3 innings, allowing single runs in the eighth and ninth with no walks and two strikeouts.
“Gerardo was huge for us tonight,” Hill said. “He came in and did exactly what we expect him to do and know he can do. Now he has to know he can do that. I’m hoping that’s a huge confidence builder for him and he takes that and runs with it.
“We really need him the rest of the year to pitch with that kind of confidence.”
Esquivel’s outing was the longest relief appearance by a Wildcat this season, bettering Jared Moore’s 4 1/3 innings at CSU Bakersfield on Feb. 20.
Esquivel gave up consecutive singles to lead off the ninth inning, and K-State elected to go to the bullpen and bring in Robert Youngdahl.
After a groundout and a single, the Gophers scored a run on a groundout and still had a runner on second base. But the left-hander forced his third groundout of the inning to end the game.
Witt led the Wildcats offensively with three hits, while Kivett also added two hits and scored a pair of runs. DeBord recorded his team-leading sixth multi-RBI game with a two-run double in the first inning. K-State also scored a run in the third on a Hinkle RBI single.
Snelten allowed five runs on six hits with three walks and no strikeouts to take the loss for Minnesota. The Gophers were led at the plate by Troy Larson, who was 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles. Dan Olinger had two hits and drove in a run on a double that tied that game at three in the third inning.
K-State and Minnesota was set to conclude the two-game series this afternoon at 3:05.