Wildcat baseball’s late rally falls short against ranked TCU

Sophomore Dominic Johnson up to bat during the game against Air Force on March 23, 2022. (Archive photo by Madison Riebel | Collegian Media Group)

All odds were stacked against Kansas State baseball going into its Big 12 opener against No. 19 TCU. The Wildcats’ 7-5 loss only solidified the odds as K-State could not overcome an early 3-0 deficit in the first inning.

“They set the tone early,” head coach Pete Hughes said to K-State Athletics. “We battled back, but credit to [TCU] — they answered our two runs in the third inning. That’s deflating when we come back and are down a run and then they tack two more on. We allowed them to use one of their weapons, which was the base on balls, just out of character for Blake [Adams].”

In the 33-pitch first inning, RHP Blake Adams struggled with control, walking the first two Horned Frog batters, then allowing a single for bases loaded and zero outs.

What seemed like damage control by Adams after a 4-6 fielder’s choice RBI quickly turned into a nightmare when Adams tossed a wild pitch for a TCU run. Then, an error by Adams extended the Frogs’ lead when he launched a pick-off past first baseman Josh Nicoloff and down the right-field line.

“We gave them some soft runs, honestly,” Hughes said to K-State Athletics. “A pick-off error and a wild pitch scored a run. We left a lot of guys on base, and they got a big two-out hit and we didn’t. When you don’t walk people and play good defense, you usually win the game. That’s basically what TCU did.”

The inning proved devasting as No. 19 TCU’s talent was too much for a come-from-behind rally before TCU tacked on two runs in the third and seventh innings.

K-State flashed life when Dylan Phillips rocketed a 2-RBI double off the right-center field wall past TCU’s leaping Elijah Nunez. Kaelen Culpepper scored the Wildcat’s first run of the game, and Dominic Johnson followed to trail 3-2.

Culpepper reached base three times in Friday’s contest with two singles. He’s just one of two Wildcats that reached base on two hits, the other being Phillips.

Dominic Johnson scored in the first but didn’t record a hit to extend his 15-game hitting streak until the seventh inning. The hit wasn’t as pretty as a double down the left-field line that fans have grown custom to seeing. Still, he reached on an infield single to the shortstop, showcasing devilish speed.

Unfortunately, Nicoloff couldn’t extend his hitting streak. He struck out twice in his 0-4 showing, ending an incredible run.

Adams exited the game on 99 pitches in five innings pitched, walking four batters, surrendering four hits and allowing five runs: four earned. Adams turned-in the loss, his second of the short season.

Relief pitchers Blake Corsentino and Ty Ruhl both allowed one run in the sixth and seventh innings, creating a more difficult obstacle than before: 7-2.

K-State rallied late in the ninth with Jeff Heinrich’s RBI-single, rewarding efforts of Culpepper’s hit-by-pitch and Dominic Johnson’s double to left field (2-4, BB). Then, Nick Goodwin’s 2-RBI single to center field shortened the lead to 7-5 but was later called out on a fielder’s choice at second base, giving the Horned Frogs a win.

K-State’s Connor McCullough starts on the bump at 2 p.m. for Saturday’s match-up against the Frogs for the second of a three-game series. Viewing is available on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.