If Jordan Wicks and Chris Ceballos weren’t friends before Saturday evening, they might be now.
Kansas State’s starting pitcher-catcher combo helped K-State rout Texas-Rio Grande Valley 7-1 at Tointon Family Stadium, each helping the other in their own ways.
Ceballos caught the game and mashed a pair of home runs, while Wicks allowed just one run across 6 1/3 innings.
K-State now leads the series 2-0.
“He told me after I hit that second one, ‘Dude, you only hit home runs when I pitch,’” Ceballos said with a laugh, referencing Wicks. “Maybe it’s something with him. I really liking working with him. For a freshman, he’s really mature on the mound. I’ve seen a lot of guys, and he’s going to be a really good dude the next couple years.”
Wicks did his part. The freshman hurled innings of one-run ball, allowing just one run on five hits while walking one and striking out six. He snaked his way out of jams, working around four extra-base hits and a thorny first three innings.
Ceballos manned catching duties, and he helped out his pitcher at the plate. He turned in a 2-for-4 outing with two home runs and four RBIs, using his first blast to give K-State the lead and the second to cushion it.
That helped the Wildcats run away with a contest that they trailed early on.
“I just tried to see something up, stick with my approach,” Ceballos said. “I’ve been driving the ball pretty well lately. Haven’t been going out, but it was finally nice to get a couple out.”
Yet even upon Wicks’ exit in the seventh, K-State (10-8) didn’t fare any worse.
Sophomore Jaxon Passino came on in relief, keeping the Vaqueros off the scoreboard in 1 2/3 innings. Freshman Dylan Phillips finished things off with a perfect ninth inning.
It was the latest version of K-State’s bullpen holding things down. In the Wildcats’ 3-1 win over the Vaqueros on Friday, the relievers held UTRGV (12-7) scoreless on two hits over the final four innings, and earlier in the week, K-State’s bullpen hurled a hitless final 4 1/3 innings.
The Wildcats’ reserve pitchers have now held opponents scoreless over the last 21 1/3 innings.
“They’ve been super reliable,” said K-State coach Pete Hughes, whose team now has won four straight. “It all starts with guys throwing strikes. Our guys have good stuff, too. The more you keep running them out there, the more confidence they have. There’s nothing like confidence when you’re executing pitches.”
K-State also won the game at the plate. Ceballos and third baseman Cameron Thompson each recorded two-hit games, and all but two Wildcats recorded hits. Phillips homered, his second of the season.
“It’s been good balance,” Hughes said. “It’s good to see that Dylan Phillips got his home run, because he can be a power guy for us. It’s good to get some people going.”
Things ended well for the hosts on Saturday, but the early stages were a see-saw.
The Vaqueros scored one in the first and could have scored in the third, but with two on and two out, right fielder Jacob Hirsh was caught stealing home, ending the inning.
K-State, though, plated two in the second. Right fielder Zach Kokoska singled and Ceballos scored him with a two-run blast to right.
K-State really made the difference in the third.
It started with Phillips, who launched a homer over the right-field wall. Shortstop Caleb Littlejim grounded out, but the Wildcats followed with three straight hits, capped by first baseman Terrence Spurlin’s ground-rule double, which drove in Thompson.
By the end of the avalanche, K-State had a 5-1 lead.
The hosts helped themselves out by capitalizing when they had the chance. K-State went 4-for-10 with runners on base and 3-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
More importantly, Hughes said, K-State drove in four runs with two outs.
“That’s the mark of a good team,” Hughes said, “when you can play with two outs and score runs and be productive with two outs.”
The Wildcats made sure the Vaqueros couldn’t say the same.
UTRGV went just 1-for-11 with runners on and 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. The Vaqueros didn’t score with two outs, either.
“The bullpen has been lights out,” Hughes said. “When you have that security blanket waiting for you, from the mid-innings on, it gives you a lot of confidence to not panic offensively and build a lead.”
K-State will go for a series sweep at 1 p.m. Sunday.