During Sunday’s game against West Virginia, Kansas State planned to put sophomore Dylan Phillips on the mound in the later innings. The Wildcats need another option for “back-end bullpen” duty, head coach Pete Hughes said.
There was only one problem: K-State’s lead over West Virginia grew to the point Phillips’ services weren’t needed.
The solution: Phillips started Tuesday’s game against Missouri and pitched two scoreless innings (with two strikeouts) in a 13-8 victory at Tointon Family Stadium.
Not only were the two innings his longest outing on the mound during his time as a Wildcat, but Phillips also was credited with the win, the first of his college career.
“It feels good. You never know with the short outings who is going to get (credited with the win),” he said. “But obviously, it’s not really something I look for, because it’s not really my role to be a starting guy who’s going to go out and get a bunch of wins for us. It’s nice to have one now for my career.”
Hughes called it “an audition” for Phillips to earn more time on the mound.
He’ll likely get an encore.
“As you guys saw,” Hughes said, “he’s got good enough stuff to pitch a lot more for us.”
His arm wasn’t the only reason he got the starting nod Tuesday, however. Hughes quickly pointed out that in Phillips’ normal role as the team’s everyday left fielder, he’s also one of the Wildcats’ (24-16) most dangerous bats.
“He can stay in the game as the DH,” Hughes said, “and we can continue to have a 10-man lineup.”
Phillips wasted no time helping his own cause with an RBI double — aided by a bad decision from CJ Cepicky — in the bottom of the first. Missouri’s starting left fielder, Cepicky misplayed the ball after it came off Phillips’ bat: He stepped forward initially, only to see the ball sail over his head and bounce off the wall, allowing Cameron Thompson to jog home for the game’s first run.
“I always love hitting when I’m pitching,” said Phillips, who had a pair of RBIs and also scored a run. “It helps me keep a clear head on both sides of it, because you’re not really thinking about either one too much. It was nice to obviously get the first run on the board and get the train rolling for us.”
One batter later, the Wildcats’ lead quadrupled: Catcher Chris Ceballos homered down the left-field line to clear the bases with a three-run shot.
But the Wildcats weren’t done in the opening inning.
Immediately after Ceballos’ homer, Zach Kokoska singled. A double to right center from Terrence Spurlin brought home Kokoska to extend the lead to 5-0.
That was all she wrote for Missouri starter Trae Robertson, who lasted only one inning, allowing five earned runs and facing just nine batters.
He entered Tuesday with a 12.67 ERA; by the time he walked off the mound, it had risen to 14.74.
“When they have a starter with numbers like that, they’re going to try to steal some outs from you, trying to shorten the game as much as they can,” Hughes said. “We did a great job of not allowing them to do that. We had five hits and a walk. That’s as productive a first inning as you can have. ... We knew we’d see a bunch of lefties and righties and a lot of different looks. I thought we set the tone of that game against an SEC opponent. I thought we played a really good game today.”
Missouri (12-26) put four runs on the board in the top of the third to draw within one ... only to see K-State counter with three runs of its own in the bottom half of the frame.
The Tigers only managed four more runs over the final six innings. Three came in the sixth, when the visitors tagged reliever Elijah Dale for a trio of runs (all earned).
Hughes wasn’t worried about Dale’s performance, though.
“(Missouri) had his pitches in the dugout,” Hughes said. “He’s got to learn that part of the game, too, where you’ve got to do a better job of hiding your grip. He was tipping his pitches. He’s got stuff. We play in a ‘stuff’ league. He’s someone we’re going to continue to try to develop and expand his role.”
The Tigers pushed one more run across the plate in the top of the ninth. But the visitors couldn’t keep K-State’s offense in check — especially Ceballos.
He finished 3-for-4 with a career-high five RBIs. In addition to his first-inning homer, he had a pair of doubles and scored two runs.
“I felt good,” he said. “At practice, I’ve just been sticking with what I’ve been doing. I knew a time would come when I’d be able to get a multi-hit game. It was just a matter of time. But nothing really changed. Just stuck with the right approach and it just kind of worked out that way.”
Hughes couldn’t find much to critique.
“Got a lot of guys on the mound, got to look at some guys we wanted to take a look at,” he said. “Nothing like winning. (It was) a productive night for our program.”