After being swept by No. 3 Texas in a three-game series, Kansas State’s baseball team looked to get back on the winning track Tuesday.
Behind five solid innings from senior starting pitcher Caleb Littlejim, and the offensive production of seven hits to produce eight runs, the Wildcats got the victory they were searching for, topping Northern Colorado 8-2 Tuesday at Tointon Family Stadium.
Littlejim gave the Wildcats (18-14) comfort through the first five innings as he struck out five batters on 65 pitches.
“I thought he was efficient,” Kansas State head coach Pete Hughes said. “He left a couple balls up, but other than that, he got us on the right track. Five innings, five strikeouts and now walks — that is the thing I look at: When you don’t give (opponent) free baserunners, you create free baserunning opportunities. From the offensive standpoint, that was kind of the tail of the game.
It was a much-needed start by Caleb.”
K-State got on the board in the bottom of the second inning. Blake Burrows was at the plate with the bases loaded and two outs; Burrows hit a soft, chopping groundball to the shortstop. The slow speed of the ball’s roll, combined with Burrow’s quickness, forced a rushed throw to first base. The throw ended up in the dirt at first base, with the first baseman unable to corral it. That allowed Kamron Willman and Cameron Uselton to score to give the hosts a 2-0 lead.
Northern Colorado (7-21) answered right back in the top of the third inning, though. The only two runs Littlejim permitted came on a fastball Shaydon Kubo of Northern Colorado squared up and drilled into K-State’s bullpen in left field. Kubo’s two-run homer knotted the game at 2-all.
The Wildcats regained the lead in the bottom half of the third inning. On the first pitch of the inning, Nick Goodwin hit a home run to right field to give the hosts a 3-2 advantage.
“Any time the visiting team gets a little momentum — the quick momentum back in your dugout — the better it is for you to build a lead,” Hughes said. “You really want to take over the momentum of the game. They got back in it real quick, but that is deflating to an offense when you can score to untie (the game). Good, disciplined swing by Nick to get us back in it.”
Zach Kokoska advanced to home plate from third base on a wild pitch later in the inning for a 4-2 lead. K-State went on to score four more runs before the game concluded.
“I was just happy with our plate discipline,” Hughes said. “That is an area we are poor at. Our on-base percentage is second to last in the league. Not because we don’t walk enough, (because) it takes plate discipline to do that. It creates traffic on the bases, and then good things happen. We have not taken advantage of all the home runs we have hit this year because we haven’t had enough baserunners. We do not walk enough. That was an area of focus tonight. That allowed us to keep building the lead.”