Fielding issues proved costly for K-State in series loss to Eastern Illinois

Kansas State junior Terrence Spurlin waits for the ball during a pick-off attempt on Sunday. The Wildcats lost the game 14-7 and dropped the season series to Eastern Illinois. (Sophie Osborn | Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State baseball team (6-4) dropped a three-game series against Eastern Illinois over the weekend. The Wildcats struggled defensively, committing seven errors in three games, which the Panthers capitalized on all series long. The Panthers scored 14 unearned runs in the series.

“I’m disappointed the way our team is playing,” head coach Pete Hughes said. “Obviously, you’re disappointed when you lose a series. We are playing sloppy and we have to clean things up to play at the level we are capable of playing.”

Junior Zach Kokoska entered the series with a low .174 batting average.

“He’s getting back to being the consistent hitter he has been his entire career,” Hughes said. “He barreled some balls up and hit a couple of home runs. Hopefully, this weekend will get him going and his head is in a good place.”

Kokoska bumped his average up to .235 after the three-game series with a pair of home runs.

K-State took a 6-3 win in the opening game of the series backed by a quality start by sophomore pitcher Jordan Wicks. The southpaw threw six scoreless innings with eight strikeouts, five hits and zero walks.

Kokoska went 2-4 at the plate with two RBIs in game one, which led the Wildcats offensively in game one.

The Panthers responded and took a 6-5 win over the Wildcats in the second game of the series on Saturday. Redshirt sophomore Carson Seymour allowed six runs — three earned off six hits with a pair of strikeouts and walks.

Eastern Illinois took an early lead with a three-run inning that was sparked by a two-run home run by freshman designated hitter Ben Snapp. The Panthers tacked on three more runs with a run in the fourth and two in the fifth. K-State committed two errors that allowed Eastern Illinois to score three unearned runs.

“You dig your hole early in the game,” Hughes said. “All those runs add up. You have to try and figure out how to fight your way back, and our guys did a great job fighting their way back.”

Junior shortstop Kameron Willman sparked the comeback with a three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth, his first homer of the season. Sophomore center fielder Dylan Phillips scored Kokoska in the sixth inning. The Wildcats inched closer in the seventh with a sacrifice fly RBI by Kokoska.

The Panther bullpen held K-State scoreless in the final two innings to seal the game two win.

The Wildcats committed five errors as the Panthers rode a seven-run seventh inning to come back and defeat the Wildcats 14-7 in the series finale.

“It’s sloppy,” Hughes said. “You make five errors, you are not going to beat anybody. That is where the story begins and ends right there for us.”

Sophomore pitcher Connor McCullough tossed 5.2 innings with six strikeouts and two walks. McCullough allowed seven hits and four runs, but none were earned. The Wildcats allowed 14 runs, but only four were earned.

The Wildcats opened the scoring with an RBI double by Phillips in the first inning. Eastern Illinois responded with a two-run inning. Sophomore catcher Tarron Lawson came in to score on an error, and senior left fielder Dane Toppel scored on a double steal by junior second baseman Lucus Diluca who was caught stealing.

Back-to-back home runs by Cameron Thompson and Kokoska gave the Wildcats a 3-2 lead in the third inning.

The offense erupted in the fifth inning in a four-run inning, which saw eight batters come to the plate. Freshman second baseman Nick Goodwin belted a 429 foot two-run home run to left field, which was his third of the season. Junior first baseman Terrence Spurlin batted in Phillips with a single, and Willman knocked in Spurlin with an RBI triple.

Eastern Illinois kept the game within reach with a two-run sixth inning. The Panthers scored on an error with two outs, then rattled off four straight singles to score another run. Sophomore pitcher Eric Torres struck out sophomore shortstop Trey Sweeney with the bases loaded to end the two-out rally.

Senior first baseman Christian Pena sparked a seven-run rally for the Panthers in the top of the seventh. Eastern Illinois hit four straight hits, including a home run to take an 11-7 lead. Toppel extended the lead with a three-run home run.

The Wildcats were held scoreless in the final four innings as the Panther bullpen slammed the door on the series.

K-State will conclude its eight-game homestand with a two-game mid-week series against South Dakota State this week. The first pitch on Tuesday is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be available on ESPN+ and KMAN radio.