Saturday, October 3, 2015

K-State baseball rallies to sweep Iowa

The Kansas State baseball team combined for a season-high six extra base hits as they rallied to turn a five-run deficit heading into the bottom of the sixth inning into a 12-8 win over Iowa Sunday afternoon at Tointon Family Stadium.

The win completed a three-game sweep of the Hawkeyes and extended the current K-State winning streak to six games. It also brought the Wildcats (7-7) to .500 for the first time this season. 

“It’s good,” K-State head coach Brad Hill said afterward. “It’s kind of like starting over, but you still can’t hide the fact of the way you started. You can try to move forward and keep playing good baseball.”

The Hawkeyes (9-4) chased K-State starter Landon Busch off the mound with four runs in 1 2/3 innings that included a two-run blast over the left field wall by Ryan Mangler. They tacked on three more runs through 6 1/2 frames to take a 7-2 lead and leave the Wildcats and the 2,738 fans in attendance searching for signs of life.

“We did not pitch very well today,” Hill said. “That is going to happen, but our offense really had to pick us up and they definitely did.”

Meanwhile, Iowa starter Tyler Peyton was cruising along. He’d retired 10 consecutive Wildcats batters before K-State’s leading hitter, junior Austin Fisher, led off the home half of the sixth by finding a hole through the right side for a single.

Two more singles, by senior R.J. Santigate — who extended his hitting streak to six games — and junior Mitch Meyer loaded the bases for designated hitter, freshman Tanner DeVinny. He drew a full-count walk, scoring Fisher, and that was it for Peyton. Righty reliever Brandon Shulista walked the next batter, sophomore Alex Bee on four straight balls to score Santigate.

“For three innings offensively, I wasn’t sure if we were going to come back. Then you get a big hopper though the hole, a base hit and (DeVinny) had a composed mature at-bat for a walk and next thing you know, you get a couple hits and we are back into the ballgame and have momentum on our side.”

Shulista struck out sophomore Colton Dalrymple swinging to stem the tide, but preseason all-Big 12 senior Ross Kivett laced a one-out shot to the right side on the ensuing at bat. Mangler made a diving stop, but his only play was at first base allowing DeVinny to score, cutting the Iowa lead to 7-6 before Shulista could get out of the jam.

Iowa got an insurance run in the seventh when Kivett, playing center field, lost a towering fly ball in the sun that fell in for a triple off the bat of Jake Yacinich before Mangler — who went 2-4 with two runs scored and three RBIs — drove him in with a sacrifice fly off K-State reliever Jake Fromson.

After Santigate lifted a drive into the left-center field gap, careening hard off the wall for a triple, first-year Iowa head coach Rick Heller went back to the bullpen. But with three straight left handed bats due up, Heller opted not to turn to a left-handed reliever. Instead he went with righty Nick Hibbing, which continued the K-State power surge.

Meyer stepped in and yanked an 0-1 pitch high off the right field wall for a double to score Santigate. He’d score when DeVinny took Hibbing’s 3-2 offering from the outer half of the plate the opposite way and rolled it all the way to the right-field wall for yet another double, scoring Meyer. Bee then came on to drive in pinch runner Max Brown when he gave K-State its fourth straight extra-base hit off the Iowa lefty with another drive off the right field wall for the eventual winning run and the Wildcats led 9-8.

“The wind helps, and they had to pitch with men on base” Hill said. “When they have to pitch with runners on base, the batters eyes tend to light up a little bit as long as they are patient and get a good pitch to hit.”

Hibbing (0-1) would take the loss after giving up five runs — four earned — in just two-thirds of an inning after being helped out of the jam when Bee was caught napping, and doubled off second base on a routine fly ball to center field from junior pinch hitter Kyle Speer.

Junior reliever Jake Whaley would pitch a scoreless eighth for K-State before the Hawkeyes gifted the Wildcats three more insurance runs in the bottom half of the inning.

Junior Carter Yagi reached when Iowa centerfielder bobbled his lazy fly ball to the ground. Then Hibbing plunked Kivett and senior Shane Conlon on the forearm and leg, respectively, on back-to-back at bats before being yanked for reliever Blake Hickman. Fisher singled in Yagi, and then Hickman hit Santigate with a pitch forcing in Kivett before Meyer drove in Conlon with a sacrifice fly.

“I am sure you could tell the energy levels in like the fourth inning were not very high out there on the field,” Conlon said. “You know being able to turn around a game like that, it is pretty crucial. Things like this could turn your season around with just having the belief in your teammates to come back.”

Like senior catcher Blair DeBord a day earlier, Meyer looked to be breaking out of an early season funk at just the right time.

“It was good to see Mitch hit well,” Hill said. “He is going to be such a big part of our ballclub. He was last year, and he has to be again this year. It was good to see him come up with a couple big hits for us.”

He went 2-3 on the day with three runs and two RBI. The corner outfielder had just two hits in 21 at bats coming into the game.

“Just getting back home, and the week off was huge,” Meyer said. “Just getting back to hitting and getting back to doing what we know how to do. It was good to help out to get a win.”

Freshman Ethan Landon pitched a perfect ninth inning for the Wildcats, who collected their 12 runs on just 11 hits for the day playing in front of the home crowd.

“Today was beautiful, and we had a great crowd, too. I appreciate the fans coming out today. That makes such a big difference with the atmosphere they create. The guys feed off it — I promise they do.”

The Wildcats are scheduled to be back at home to host Omaha on Wednesday. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m.

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