With star sophomore starting pitcher Jordan Wicks on the mound Friday, Kansas State was in good hands to start its weekend series against New Mexico.
Wicks was stellar on the mound for the Wildcats: The Conway, Ark., native matched his career high with 10 strikeouts in six innings and allowed only one earned run.
Wick’s strong six performance and a breakout sixth inning at the plate made the difference for the Wildcats in a 7-1 win at Tointon Family Stadium.
“For the most part, (my performances) have been pretty good,” said Wicks, who improved to 4-0. “Any time I can start with four wins I am happy, because that means the team got a win. That is what we are here for, and that is what it is about.”
Wicks cruised through the first three innings; four strikeouts prevented New Mexico from having a threat on the bases.
It was in the fourth inning the visitors started to make Wicks work. New Mexico got a leadoff double. Runners on first and second base with zero outs went to runners on second and third base with two outs. Wicks held off the Lobos and recorded a strikeout to end the inning.
“I knew if I could get out of that situation, it would give (our offense) a lot of confidence and be able to get them going, get them some confidence to get a run. I have a lot of confidence in our hitters,” Wicks said. “That is exactly what they did.”
New Mexico’s starting pitcher Nathaniel Garley also had strong showing on the mound. Garley had four strikeouts and held K-State to just one run through the first five innings to make the game a pitcher’s battle.
That run off Garley came in the bottom of the fourth.
K-State (12-5) started the inning with a leadoff double from Cameron Thompson. He advanced to third on a base hit, and then senior catcher Chris Ceballos came through with a single to left-center field to score Thompson.
“It was a big momentum shift in the game,” Wicks said. “For the guys to get a run was huge for our ball club.”
New Mexico (5-9) scratched one run off Hicks in the top of the sixth on a solo home run that tied the game at 1-1.
“Any two things to stop momentum — especially when you have traffic on the bases — you need to have stuff, and (Wicks) has exceptional stuff,” Kansas State head coach Pete Hughes said. “You need to be the ultimate competitor. When things get a little dangerous and in favor of the other team, he can snuff it out. That is where he gets better. I have seen him do that a bunch. He made his pitches tonight and did a great job of getting to both sides of the plate.”
In multiple games this season, K-State has had to win scoring fests; the Wildcats have scored double-digit runs in three games this season.
With Wicks being on the mound, Hughes said, it changes the tone of the game.
“I coach differently when (Wicks) is on the mound,” Hughes said. “I am more prone to play for a run. We do not necessarily need seven runs to win when he is on the mound. Our chances are pretty good to win if we can score two or three runs when Jordan is on the mound.”
After the Lobos tied the game in the top of the sixth, the Wildcats responded in the bottom half of the frame. The hosts quickly got runners on first and second base with zero outs. After both runners advanced on an out, Ceballos hit a grounder up the middle that bounced off second base into the outfield, allowing both runners to score to take back the lead.
Junior outfielder Zach Kokoska gave the Wildcats some breathing room with a two-run home run that floated into K-State’s bullpen in left field to extend the advantage to 5-1.
“Everyone settled in,” Hughes said. “Our guys know with Jordan on the mound, a three- or four-run lead puts us in good shape.”
K-Sate added two more runs in the seventh inning, as junior Kamron Willman crossed the plate on an error and freshman Nick Goodwin scored on a balk.
After Wicks left the game in the sixth inning, the bullpen sealed the victory.
“Jordan is going to have a long career, so I (need) to be careful with how we handle him,” Hughes said. “I will not go much more than 95 pitches with him. If we cannot win a game with our bullpen in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, we are not going to be the team we think we are going to be. When Jordan gives us a quality start through six on a Friday night, our bullpen should be able to handle (innings) seven, eight and nine.”