Baseball drops tough contest to Air Force, win streak ends

Dominic Johnson slides into third against Crowder College on Oct. 22, 2021, at the Tointon Family Stadium. (Archive photo by Madison Riebel | Collegian Media Group)

Throughout Kansas State baseball’s eight-game win-streak, offense has been the key to the Wildcats’ success. Over the weekend against Morehead State, the Wildcats combined to score 34 runs in a three-game sweep that had the offense looking like they were all Ted Williams.

That all changed on Wednesday against Air Force, as K-State dropped a tough decision 4-3 as the offense came back down to Earth and the defense committed three errors.

“We certainly didn’t play well enough to beat anyone, especially a competitive, tough program like Air Force,” head coach Pete Hughes said to K-State Sports.

The whole game really comes down to the sixth inning. Down a run, K-State started the inning with a double from Dylan Phillips and a single from Josh Nicoloff. After a pitching change, Nick Goodwin singled home Phillips to tie the game and put Nicoloff on third.

With runners on first and third and nobody out, K-State was primed for a big inning and to take the lead. Instead, the Wildcats settled for one score, as Justin Mitchell popped out to first base and Orlando Salinas Jr. grounded into a double play.

Over the final four innings, K-State left a total of five men on-base and had two innings ended by double plays. This includes leaving four men in scoring position.

Defensively, two of the four runs that Air Force scored were unearned. The second error was a major killer, as pitcher Collin Rothermel overthrew Nicoloff at first base on a ground ball to the mound. Had the play been made, the inning would’ve been over and K-State would’ve been down two runs instead of three.

While these errors could be excused because it was a wet, cold day at the ballpark, this is the second straight game where the Wildcats have committed three errors. With Big 12 play starting Friday, March 25 at ranked-TCU, the defense will have to turn things around before small mistakes turn into big consequences.

Even with all the problems this game possessed, not everything was horrible for the Wildcats. Dominic Johnson extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a seventh-inning single. This also means he has collected at least one hit in all but one game this season.

Josh Nicoloff also extended his hitting streak to 13 games, going 2-4, and Kaelen Culpepper hit an opposite-field homer in the third inning — his first of the season and as a collegiate player.

“It was good to get Culpepper going offensively,” Hughes said. “We think he’s going to hit for power with us, and it was great to see that tool come out for us today.”

Rothermel also did a great job keeping his team in the game. He struck out six over five innings and only surrendered five hits. His command was a little spotty at times as he walked three, but he still limited the damage for the most part. Taking out the two errors that led to runs, Rothermel had a very solid start.

The Wildcats are back in action on the road against No. 19 TCU for a three-game series starting at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 25, airing on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.