Wildcat baseball defeats former Big 12 rival in home opener

The K-State baseball team plays against each other in the annual Fall World Series. (Archive photo by Elizabeth Sandstrom | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State baseball returned to Tointon Family Stadium Wednesday evening from a seven-game road trip in California. The Wildcats faced the reigning Big 10 Champions and former Big 12 rival Nebraska and triumphed 6-4.

“It’s just nice to play at home and play clean with some confidence,” K-State head coach Pete Hughes said. “That happens when you get two really, really good performances from [Griffin] Hassall and [Collin] Rothermel. I thought this was the cleanest game we’ve played.”

K-State’s Hassall started the game strong by striking out the leadoff batter looking in the first inning and striking out the side in the second inning.

Hassall faced a little damage in the third inning when Nebraska crushed an RBI double to left-center field. The Husker runner scored from first base because of a hit-and-run signal, and everything looked headed south.

However, after K-State’s scoreless bottom half of the inning, the Wildcats stormed back with heavy artillery and artistic small ball in the fourth.

Shortstop Nick Goodwin smashed a leadoff homer to left field to knot the score at one run. As the ball soared over the 325-foot sign on the left-field wall, Goodwin admired it from home plate.

“It felt really good, especially in this kind of weather,” Goodwin said. “In these conditions, you’re not trying to hit home runs, you’re just trying to put the barrel on the ball, and fortunately I got a pitch that I could hit out of the park, up-and-in, so I put a good swing on it and happened to go out.”

The Wildcats weren’t done. The next three pitches from Husker starting pitcher Emmett Olson resulted in a double to right field by Josh Nicoloff, a bunt for a hit by Cole Johnson and an RBI push-bunt from Orlando Salinas Jr.

After Olson was pulled from the game, K-State caused bases-loaded errors from Nebraska infielders by smoking ground balls.

The first shot off Cash Rugely’s bat to the third baseman, which he bobbled towards the third foul line to make it 4-1. Then, a grounder from Dylan Phillips was bobbled by the Nebraska shortstop trying to turn a double play, giving the Wildcats a 5-1 advantage.

“Credit to our guys,” Hughes said. “We had to put the ball in play, put some pressure on their defense. Did a good job with our fundamentals — getting our bunts down. Great job by putting pressure on Nebraska and also answering after they scored first.”

Griffin Hassall exited the game with a four-run edge, securing his first victory of the season (1-2). Hassall finished the day with five strikeouts, one walk, one hit and just one earned run.

“Griffin Hassall has just been the steady — consistent guy on our staff all year long,” Hughes said.

He handed the ball to another seasoned pitcher from the Wildcat bullpen, Collin Rothermel, who was rewarded the save.

In five innings pitched, Rothermel allowed five hits, three earned runs and one walk, but struck out four batters. The minimal damage arrived in the seventh when Nebraska knocked in two runs on a double and single to left field.

Rothermel was resilient, responding to adversity with power and accuracy. He bounced back from a two-run seventh inning with a strikeout looking in the eighth and one to close the door on K-State’s former rival for a 6-4 victory.

“Rothermel did a good job: he got settled in, he handled a little traffic on the bases, he slowed the game down,” Hughes said. “He just kept getting better every inning, and he didn’t let barrel contact get in the way. I thought he had a great outing — I gave him the game ball.”

K-State kicks off a three-game series against Central Connecticut State at Tointon Family Stadium in Manhattan on Friday. However, last-minute scheduling changes could be made because of inclement weather conditions.

Viewing is available on Big 12 Now / ESPN+. Tickets are available at K-State Sports.