Just two outs away from a Big 12 title, the large contingent of fans at Tointon Family Stadium let out a collective groan when Jake Matthys gave up the game-tying solo home run in the top of the ninth.
The groans didn’t last, though.
The 18th-ranked Kansas State baseball team earned at least a share of the Big 12 title on a walkoff passed ball after Oklahoma reliever Jacob Evans loaded the bases and threw a pitch high and away that catcher Anthony Hermelyn couldn’t keep in front of him.
As the ball rolled toward the backstop, Tanner Witt, who drew a leadoff walk, took off from third and scored without a play to send the sell-out crowd, as well as everyone in the K-State dugout, into a frenzy of celebration.
“It’s pretty amazing,” K-State head coach Brad Hill said. “These kids are phenomenal. All the credit goes to these kids, and the coaching staff did a tremendous job of preparing them and getting them ready to go.”
The title completed the trifecta of Big 12 championships in football, men’s basketball and baseball. Texas is the only other league school to sweep all three titles, doing so in 2005-06.
Witt said once he saw the ball get past Hermelyn, he was going all the way.
“I saw the ball go by and hit the back,” Witt said. “So I was pretty confident, but I didn’t want to get thrown out.”
With Oklahoma (35-18, 12-10 Big 12) sending its ace and potential top-two draft pick in Jonathan Gray to the mound, K-State (35-18, 15-7) knew wrapping up a title on Friday would take a strong effort at the plate. It didn’t come quickly, but after the Wildcats got to Gray in the sixth, they rattled off at least one run in each of the final innings to claim their first-ever Big 12 title and first league title in 80 years after being picked to finish seventh among the nine Big 12 schools that play baseball.
“When we got down 4-0 against one of the top draft picks there was no panic in the guys,” Hill said. “They believed they were going to come back and win.”
Tied at four after seven innings, K-State got the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth on a single from pinch hitter Lance Miles after Jon Davis, who was being honored with a “Moustache Night” promotion, led off with a triple.
But Oklahoma wasn’t finished.
Facing Matthys with one out in the top of the ninth, OU’s Jack Mayfield hit a tall fly ball that landed over the fence, but foul. He took Matthys’ next pitch and sent it over the wall in left-center to tie the game at five runs apiece.
“I was thinking, hey, it’s a strike, oh well,” Matthys said. “I just have to execute a pitch here, and unfortunately I left it up a little bit and he took it out.
“I believe in my team, I knew they were going to play for me and I knew they were going to try and pick me up.”
K-State did just that, responding in the bottom of the inning with Witt’s leadoff walk, with Shane Conlon moving him over on a sacrifice bunt. Oklahoma opted to intentionally walk Jared King, but it backfired when Evans hit Austin Fisher to load the bases with one out and bring up Davis, who despite an injury, had two extra-base hits on the night.
With a 2-1 count on Davis, Evans’ pitch missed the target and skipped past the catcher to score Witt and end the game.
Matthys (8-0) said he knew his teammates would do everything they could to turn his blown save into a win.
“They’ve done it all year, so it’s normal to us,” he said. “As a pitching staff, we don’t have to have our best stuff every day because we know they’re going to fight for us and score some runs for us.”
Oklahoma staked Gray to an early lead with three runs in the fourth inning, getting a two-out triple from Hector Lorenzana, with Hermelyn driving him in with the first of three consecutive singles by the Sooners. A wild pitch by K-State starter Levi MaVorhis put two runners in scoring position and Hunter Haley drove them both in with a single.
MaVorhis came out with one out in the top of the sixth after allowing a pair of singles. Nate Williams came on in relief and loaded the bases on another single before Oklahoma’s Kolbey Carpenter hit into a fielder’s choice to drive in a run and make it 4-0 Sooners. Williams got a ground ball out to end the inning and give MaVorhis a final line of four runs and eight hits with a strikeout and a walk.
“He might throw 84 miles per hour,” Hill said. “That’s not your typical Friday-night guy. But he’s a competitor, he can throw different pitches for strikes, he doesn’t get rattled and he doesn’t give up big innings.”
The Wildcats wouldn’t get much going against Gray until the sixth inning. Conlon singled to leadoff the inning and went first to third on a single by King. Fisher’s RBI single, which extended his hitting streak to 18 games, gave the Wildcats their first run, with Mitch Meyer adding a two-run single to cut into the Sooner lead and make it 4-3.
K-State added a run in the seventh to tie the game and pump up the 3,589 fans in attendance on an RBI single by Witt that chased Gray.
Jake Fisher came on in relief and walked Conlon to bring up King. Oklahoma head coach Sunny Golloway opted to bring in Kyle Hayes to face King, who hit a chopper up the middle to reach on an infield single, but Witt rounded third and came too far off the bag before getting caught in a rundown between third and home plate. OU threw him out while the other two runners advanced. Much to the frustration of the fans, the Sooners made a third pitching change, bringing in Ethan Carnes to face Fisher, who popped out to left and left the score tied at four.
Davis had both of K-State’s only extra-base hits, a double and a triple, despite hurting his knee on a groundout to first in the sixth inning. After being helped off the field, Davis returned to his post in right field the next inning.
“We knew he wasn’t coming out of the game, that’s just Jon,” Hill said. “He gets hurt, next thing you know, he’s legging a triple out. He really exemplifies our program, I think. He’s a tough kid who loves to play baseball.”
With the Big 12 title share locked up, Hill said he would like to see his team do what they’ve been focused on doing all year — winning each series. A win in the final two games of the series would give the Wildcats the league title outright.
“I want to win this thing outright, I don’t want it to end in a tie,” Hill said. “If we need to win two, I’m going to make darn sure we’re trying to win two.”