With waves of momentum flowing in the third-base dugout, Kansas State baseball suddenly found itself in a competitive shootout against No. 7 Texas. After being down 5-1 through five and a half innings, the Wildcats woke up and scored seven unanswered runs, beating the Longhorns 8-5.
All-American Dylan Phillips blasted his 41st career home run midway up the batter’s eye to keep K-State within reach in the fourth inning. Then, “Whammer” hit a second home run in the sixth inning that only started the engine ahead of a long drive.
“That’s why Dylan Phillips is so valuable: ‘Gotcha fellas, you guys figure it out – home run. You guys figure it out – home run. I’m still here waiting on you!'” head coach Pete Hughes said to impersonate Phillips’ play. “That’s what he does.”
It didn’t take long for the remaining order to follow suit, as catcher Justin Mitchell hit a two-out double to the right-center gap. Soon after, Cole Johnson scored Mitchell on a clutch single back up the middle into center field.
The drive stalled on a ground out, but it started a rallying cry from not just an offensive perspective, but on defense too.
With Texas’ “Hispanic Titanic” Ivan Melendez standing on first, Murphy Stehly stroked a ball down the left-field line and into the corner. It looked like the Longhorn’s lead would extend, but then a perfectly executed relay from Dom Johnson to Nick Goodwin set up a missile to home plate for an out.
It was the cornerstone for a legendary ending. However, Nick Goodwin said he feels that pitcher Tyson Neighbors was the turning point when he left the game after the seventh inning with zero runs to his name.
“I think when he came in, he did really well: threw strikes and got guys out, so I think that was the turning point in the game,” Goodwin said.
Then with two on and one out in the bottom of the seventh, thunder erupted off Goodwin’s bat. You could have heard a pin drop if there weren’t gasps from fans in purple.
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Goodwin tattooed a three-run moonshot over the left-field wall to put the Wildcats ahead 8-5. It was the deciding factor in the game and the biggest homer of all four that K-State tallied.
It accompanied a solo home run by Jeff Heinrich coming out of the stretch, and a throwing error on a 5-4 double-play attempt that allowed Josh Nicoloff to tie the game at five-apiece.
It sounds like soothing fireworks on the Fourth of July, but the comeback kids wouldn’t have needed it if it weren’t for Texas’ star pitcher Pete Hansen. It was the most runs Hansen’s surrendered all season, and his only loss, but it didn’t start out that way.
Griffin Hassall struck out the side for K-State to start the game, but then Hansen replicated one of his own in the bottom half. He went on to strike out Wildcat batters for the first eight outs of the game, finally grounding out Dom Johnson to end the third.
“That kid’s really good,” Hughes said. “I’ve been watching film on him the past three days, and he’s done that to everybody, so good for our guys to stay with it and we had a good game plan — good approach, and you gotta live with your strikeouts before you get paid off.”
Those were the only strikeouts the lefty scored against K-State as they went on to score six earned runs against him, the most he’s surrendered all season. The seven runs total against Hansen left a slight stain on a still-impressive 2.78 era, which was 2.08 entering Thursday night’s contest.
To complete the victory, Saturday’s starting pitcher Connor McCullough earned his first save of the season on 14 pitches and two strikeouts. It was mentioned as a brief possibility before the game but wasn’t an expectation for McCullough.
“I actually was sitting on the couch in the clubhouse in the top of the seventh, I was writing a scouting report for Saturday,” McCullough said. “Then, we score the fourth and fifth run(s) to tie it, and that’s when I go down to the bullpen, put my cleats on and head down there. They just came in and said get down there.”
It was a sweet ending for a club that has a strong distaste for the stampede of players in burnt orange. Kansas-native Nick Goodwin revealed collective feelings from the K-State roster.
“No one here likes the Longhorns and that group of guys [that] came in are pretty cocky guys,” Goodwin said. “They expected to win all three of these games, so to win that first one is huge, and it feels really good.”
Now that K-State has won the first of a three-game series, the game-plan is to make it count by winning the series: something the Wildcats couldn’t do against the previous three Big 12 opponents.
“The main focus is coming here and doing the same thing tomorrow,” Dylan Phillips said. “Yeah, this one feels great, but at this point in the year, we need to start sacking up some wins, so we’re gonna build on tonight with that confidence and use it for tomorrow.”
K-State looks to win the series against No. 7 Texas at 6 p.m. tonight at Tointon Family Stadium. Tickets are available at K-State Sports while viewing is viewable on ESPN+.