Wildcat baseball routs Loyola Marymount in series opener

Tyler Eckberg throws a pitch to an Oklahoma University batter on April 17, 2021. (Archive photo by Natalie Leonard l Collegian Media Group)

Following a disappointing 5-7 loss against Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday, Kansas State baseball won its first series opener of the season against Loyola Marymount. K-State routed the Lions in an 11-0 blow-out on Friday evening to improve its record to 2-6.

The Wildcats remained hungry from Tuesday’s five-run affair against Fullerton, pounding a trio of doubles in the second inning to take an early 2-0 lead.

Orlando Salinas Jr. fired the first shot into left field for a lead-off double, then outfielder Cole Johnson followed suit with an RBI double to score Salinas Jr. Dominic Johnson finished the trifecta with a poke to left field to put K-State up 2-0.

While starting RHP Blake Adams continued to tame the Lions, the Wildcats relentlessly attacked in the fifth inning starting with Dylan Phillips. The preseason All-American turned on an inside pitch and crushed a two-run homer to right field for his fourth of the season.

“Whammer’s (Phillips) our guy and when he gets going, usually the rest of our offense follows,” K-state head baseball coach Pete Hughes said to K-State Athletics.

Then, Nick Goodwin and Josh Nicoloff stole second and third bases on a double steal after reaching base safely, and Cash Rugely walked the bases loaded for Cole Johnson. The steaming centerfielder picked his teammates up with a 2-RBI roped infield single.

Shortly after, Rugely snuck home on a passed ball by Loyola Marymount’s catcher, and Johnson scored on an RBI single to give K-State an 8-0 lead.

K-State added insult to injury by tacking on two more runs in the top of the seventh inning as well when another two-RBI double was smashed. This time it was third baseman Brady Day upping the deficit to 10-0.

The lead signaled coach Hughes to grant Blake Adams rest for the remainder of the game after a stellar shutout performance. In six innings pitched, Adams sat seven batters down on strikeouts, and only surrendered five hits and two walks.

“He didn’t have his great fastball tonight, but really good pitchers and great competitors can win when you don’t have your best stuff,” Hughes said. “That’s what he did tonight — threw a ton of strikes and controlled the tempo of the game from pitch number one.”

Loyola Marymount tried to take advantage of the pitching change following the seventh-inning stretch, but couldn’t cash in. After reaching on a single and error, relief pitcher Nico Rodriguez slammed the door on an opportunity by striking out the side.

RHP Collin Rothermel relieved after the BatCats scored one run on an RBI sacrifice fly by Kaelen Culpepper. Rothermel didn’t allow any Lions runs either, recording two strikeouts of his own.

Finally, RHP Chris Herb assassinated all remaining hope with a steep curveball for a swing and miss to complete the shutout. Altogether, Wildcat pitchers allowed just seven hits and struck out 14 Lions to give Blake Adams his first win of the season.

“[Herb] went from being a positional player, converting to a pitcher and then Tommy John (surgery),” Hughes said. “It’s been a long road, and no one is in the building, rehabbing and working on their craft more than him. No one invests more time, so it was an easy choice to give him the game ball tonight. That’s a heck of a road for that kid to come back and be more than serviceable but be pretty darn good.”

Four K-State batters finished with two RBIs, featuring Dylan Phillips on his two-run blast, lead-off hitter Dom Johnson, Brady Day and Cole Johnson.

Kaelen Culpepper had the last RBI of the evening with his SAC fly: the other two runs scored as unearned to give the Wildcats an 11-0 victory in Los Angeles, California.

“I think we had 10 two-out hits, which is an unbelievable stat,” Hughes said. “I always tell our guys that good teams have the ability to play with two outs and get those two-out hits. We haven’t done that of late, but hopefully, it’s trending in that direction. Proud of our guys for sticking with it.”

Game two of the three-game series starts at 8 p.m. on Saturday, where the Wildcats play for a series victory against Loyola Marymount. Viewing is free on WCCN, with audio on KMAN radio.