K-State bookends opening weekend with wins backed by strong starting pitching

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K-State concludes the Fall World Series, Shave for the Brave. Team Grey took a 6-3 victory over Team Purple. K-State baseball Shave For The Brave scrimmage was located at Tointon Baseball Stadium on Oct. 10, 2020. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

It was a roller coaster start to the 2021 baseball season for Kansas State in the Sanderson Ford College Classic over the weekend in Surprise, Arizona. The Wildcats went 1-2 following the Friday victory over Oregon State to move to 2-2 on the season.

K-State starting pitchers combined for 22.2 innings and 24 strikeouts over the four-game stretch.

Freshman infielder Nick Goodwin provided an offensive jolt to the lineup. The Overland Park, Kansas, native, hit .417 over the weekend with four RBIs while posting a .611 on-base percentage in his first three games at K-State.

“Nick Goodwin, he’s playing like a veteran,” head coach Pete Hughes said to K-State Sports. “Nothing phases him, and the game is real slow for him right now.”

The K-State pitching staff struggled on Saturday night in a 17-5 loss to Gonzaga. The Bulldogs had 19 hits, which produced runs in all but two innings. K-State starter, redshirt sophomore righty Carson Seymour (0-0) tossed three innings, allowing four runs on six hits — three of the runs came in the opening frame. He struck out two and walked three in his season debut.

Senior starting pitcher Alek Jacob (1-0) tossed five innings with four runs off of four hits with five strikeouts and three walks.

The K-State offense exploded in the bottom of the third with a four-run inning with a double by senior infielder Cameron Thompson. Redshirt junior infielder Kamron Willman was able to score on an error. Junior outfielder Zach Kokoska collected an RBI on a single and sophomore outfielder Dylan Phillips capped off the inning with a single that scored two.

Gonzaga took the lead with a two-run fourth inning with two runs, one earned off of Josh Flack (0-1), who would eventually be credited with the loss. The Bulldogs’ scoring flurry continued the following inning, which plated five off of junior right-hander Jaxon Passino.

“When you go through nine innings, and not one of them is clean, you can’t expect to play catch up offensively,” Hughes said to K-State Sports. “There were runners on base all night long. We didn’t pitch it well enough, and we didn’t swing it well enough, to be honest. You combine those two things, and that’s the outcome you’re going to get.”

K-State added a run in the sixth, but the Bulldogs responded in the bottom half and would add two in the eighth and three in the ninth. Collectively, K-State pitchers allowed 13 free bases with eight walks and hit five batters.

In game three on Sunday, the Wildcats were defeated by New Mexico 4-3 in walk-off fashion. Redshirt freshman pitcher Connor McCullough tossed seven innings with one run on four hits with nine strikeouts and three walks.

“It’s unfortunate when a quality start gets wasted at this level, ” Hughes said. “Connor McCullough was dominant and deserved a better result.”

K-State rattled off three runs off of New Mexico’s junior starter Tristin Lively, who lasted six innings with only one earned run. Lively was able to strike out seven and walked three. The Lobos made three errors in the contest.

The New Mexico bullpen held the Wildcats scoreless and recorded four strikeouts in three innings. Sophomore pitcher Bobby Meza (1-0) record the win after pitching the ninth.

The Lobos scored three off the K-State bullpen to take a 4-3 win in walk-off fashion, with redshirt junior pitcher Tyler Eckberg being credited with the loss.

K-State will get an opportunity to get revenge on New Mexico in Manhattan later in the season. The three-game series will be the last series before jumping into Big 12 Confern play.

K-State bounced back with a 6-1 victory over Gonzaga on Monday afternoon. Senior pitcher Kasey Ford (1-0) tossed 5.2 scoreless innings allowing four hits with three strikeouts and four walks. The bullpen allowed only one run in four innings of work, and freshman pitcher Nico Rodriguez notched his first save of the season.

The Wildcats broke the deadlock in the sixth inning with three runs on RBIs by Thompson and Phillips. Thompson and Goodwin added two more in the eighth. Goodwin capped off a 3-5 and 2-RBI afternoon with a single in the ninth.

“A much-needed win,” Hughes said. “I know it’s early in the season, but it was a much-needed win in my mind. After a heartbreak loss [on Sunday], it gets guys feeling good getting on the plane back home.”

The Wildcats will host Western Michigan next weekend in a three-game series that will kick-off an eight-game homestand. First pitch of game one is slated for 3 p.m. and will be available on ESPN+ and KMAN radio.

It will be the first homestand since March of last season and only the third homestand since the $15 million renovations of Tointon Family Stadium were completed. The price tag of the project also included the construction of Buser Family Park — the home of K-State women’s soccer.

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