Wicks, Kokoska lead baseball to a 6-3 win over Eastern Illinois

Senior outfileder Caleb Littlejim takes a hack at an Eastern Illinois pitch in K-State's 6-3 win over the Panthers at Tointon Family Stadium in Manhattan on March 5, 2021. (Sophie Osborn | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State baseball opened up a three-game series with a 6-3 win over Eastern Illinois on Friday afternoon.

“You always get a chance when you have a quality start,” manager Pete Hughes said. “I thought it was a solid game. We made a couple of mistakes that were up in the zone, and they took advantage,”

Junior right fielder Zach Kokoska led the Wildcats, going 2-4 with two RBIs and a home run. The Wildcats finished the afternoon with 10 hits. It was good enough for the win, but not to the standards set by the staff.

“I’m still a little bit frustrated with what we’re doing offensively,” Hughes said. I just have really high expectations for our guys offensively. Ten hits, feel good about a win, but everytime we go out there, we’re trying to get Big 12 ready.”

Sophomore Jordan Wicks tossed six innings, allowing no runs on five hits with eight strikeouts and no walks.

The lefty got into trouble in the first and fourth innings with runners in scoring position, but Wicks was able to eliminate the threats.

“They were a team that was really on the plate,” Wicks said. “We had to make that adjustment, and I think we adjusted pretty well.”

Redshirt junior Tyler Eckberg recorded his third save of the season with a scoreless ninth inning.

Junior pitcher Ky Hampton pitched six innings allowing six runs on 10 hits and one strikeout for Eastern Illinois. Hampton had two crucial balks with a runner on third, scoring both K-State base runners.

The Panthers recorded eight hits and left five on base. Redshirt sophomore shortstop Trey Sweeney led Eastern Illinois, going 3-4 at the plate with two RBIs.

The Wildcats opened the scoring in the bottom of the first with a solo shot by Zach Kokoska to right field, his second of the season.

“That was a great way to get him and our team going in the first inning,” Hughes said. “That was a really good sign.”

The opening run gave some freedom to the starter Wicks.

“It’s always awesome when you start out with a lead,” Wicks said. “It relaxes you, and you can go out and attack guys; you don’t feel you have to be perfect. These guys do a good job of making sure that I have a lead pretty often.”

K-State added two runs in the fourth inning, which started with a leadoff double by freshman designated hitter Nick Goodwin. He was able to score following a stolen base and a balk by the pitcher. Senior catcher Chris Ceballos batted in sophomore second baseman Daniel Carinci with a double to extend the lead.

The bottom of the fifth began with a leadoff single by senior third baseman Cameron Thompson, which started another two-run inning for the Wildcats. Kokoska collected his second RBI of the day with a double and sophomore left fielder Dylan Phillips batted him in on a double.

K-State tacked on another run in the sixth inning with a triple by junior shortstop Kameron Willman, who scored on a balk to take a 6-0 lead over the Panthers.

The Panthers threatened again in the top of the eighth and cashed in with a two-run triple by Sweeney. Redshirt senior first baseman Christian Pena knocked in Sweeney with a sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 6-3. Eckberg tossed a 1-2-3 scoreless ninth to seal the win for the Wildcats.

Redshirt sophomore Carson Seymour will pitch for the Wildcats in game two. Redshirt junior Trevor Nicholson will take the mound for the Panthers. First pitch is slated for 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Sophomore Connor McCullough will wrap up the series for K-State, and redshirt freshman Hayden Birdsong will toe the slab for Eastern Illinois at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Both games will be available on ESPN+.