Jared King’s first hit was a big one.
One inning after making a highlight catch in centerfield to preserve a tie game, King delivered Kansas State’s biggest hit of the night on Saturday. The junior launched a two-run double to right-center field to spark a four-run sixth inning and a 7-1 win over Bryant in the NCAA Regional at Tointon Family Stadium.
K-State (43-17) will face the winner of Arkansas and Bryant today at 7 p.m.
Tied at one in the fifth inning, Bryant had two runners on with two outs when Kevin Brown hit a ball to shallow right-center field. King came driving across and laid out for the ball, snagging it with his glove and rolling over to show his catch.
The play sparked a loud ovation from the crowd and ESPN3’s coverage of the game dubbed the play SportsCenter Top 10-worthy.
King said K-State coach Brad Hill made a split-second adjustment before the play that put him in perfect position to make the catch.
“Before that pitch, coach had me in the other gap and saw a couple pitches and made an adjustment, that was good on (his) part, I was lucky I caught it, I gave it my best effort.”
But what King did in the top of the sixth was even bigger for the Wildcats.
With runners at the corners and one out, King smacked a double to right-center field, scoring Ross Kivett from third and allowing Shane Conlon to come all the way around from first. It was King’s first hit of the weekend.
Kivett said after King made the catch in the fifth inning, he knew things were about to go in their direction.
“That was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen, not because it was such an athletic play, but because of the situation in the game,” he said. “That was the turning point, leading off that next inning, I knew if I could get on, we’d do some damage.”
Bryant coach Steve Owens said the diving catch from King turned momentum in K-State’s favor for good.
“He made a great play, it’s a SportsCenter type play,” he said. “He closed on it, I thought it was going to fall, it got held up in the wind a little bit — caught in a cross wind — and he was able to close on it. I think it’s a different game, we might still be playing out there, if he doesn’t make that play.”
Armed with the momentum, K-State added runs on a passed ball and a Bryant fielding error to extend its lead to 5-1. Kivett led the Wildcats at the plate, going 2 for 5 with two runs and an RBI.
The Wildcats’ offensive effort was aided by a solid effort from starter Joe Flattery
(5-4), who allowed one run on seven hits in five innings to earn the win
Bryant (45-17-1) got a strong performance out of Craig Schlitter (10-4), who pitched 5 1/3 innings and allowed three runs, two earned on four hits. The Bulldogs removed Schlitter from the game when King came to the plate in the sixth.
Owens said the start from Schlitter was spoiled by the big inning that turned the game K-State’s way.
“We got a really good start from our pitcher and we were right in the baseball game, and then we got an inning going and their center fielder made a great play,” he said. “They took advantage of a couple miscues and put together an inning where we gave them five outs. That’s pretty much the story for how today went.”
Hill said it was an emotional game on all sides, and one that changed on one play.
“Very tough game, great pitching matchup — it was just a well pitched ball game,” he said. “It boiled down to a tremendous play Jared made that swung momentum our way.”
K-State led to start the game with a Tanner Witt single that scored Kivett. Bryant came right back in the bottom of the first to tie the game, but an attempt to take the lead was cutdown at the plate.
For the second straight night, Witt hit K-State catcher Blair DeBord with a perfect throw, causing a collision with Bryant’s AJ Zarozny. The Bulldogs’ leftfielder left the game with an injury.
Owens said after the game that Zarozny was knocked out cold on the play, and was in the hospital being treated for a concussion after the game.
The Wildcats added two more runs in the top of the ninth on an RBI groundout and a wild pitch.
Jake Matthys finished off the game for K-State to earn the save, going 2 1/3 innings and striking out two.