Late inning grand slam pushes past Omaha

Sophomore Nick Goodwin steps up to bat against Texas at Tointon Family Stadium on April 14, 2022. (Archive photo by Sophie Osborn | Collegian Media Group)

A grand slam from senior Jeff Heinrich in the seventh inning served as a turning point as the Kansas State baseball team defeated Omaha 11-3 on Tuesday.

The first six innings of play left spectators unsatisfied. The Wildcats reached base 24 times — 11 hits, 10 walks and three hit-by-pitches — but only mustered one run until the seventh inning.

K-State left 13 runners on base through six innings, with numerous bad breaks that could have plated runs. In the first inning, the Wildcats had two runners on with zero outs, but couldn’t bring either home.

In the second, K-State had the bases loaded with one out at the top of its lineup. One run managed to score, but a strikeout from sophomore Nick Goodwin and fly-out by junior Dylan Phillips ended a long run.

In the fourth, Heinrich started the inning with a lead-off double. A strikeout, fly out, walk and ground-out turned into two more runners left on base but no more run support.

Controversy struck in the bottom of the fifth. With a runner on second, senior Josh Nicoloff sent a ball flying down the left-field line. The left-field umpire signaled for a home run as the stadium lights bounced and Endor’s “Pump It Up” began playing.

The celebration from the dugout wasn’t as big as someone might expect from a game-tying home run as players watched the umpires discuss whether or not the ball was fair. After a minute of deliberation, the crew decided the ball was actually foul.

K-State head coach Pete Hughes was irate, but after looking at the tape, the umpire crew stuck with their call of a foul ball. Nicoloff singled after throwing his helmet back on, but a pop-up and fly-out couldn’t score runners on first and third with one out.

With a “one” still shining on the scoreboard in the seventh inning, Omaha sent sophomore pitcher Tanner Olmstead — one of nine Maverick pitchers to throw in the contest — to the mound. Olmstead walked the bases loaded and, with one out, the small crowd at Tointon Family Stadium on a cold Tuesday night erupted.

Heinrich sent a ball 369 feet off his bat and over the left-field wall. The bases cleared as the Wildcats took their first lead of the game at 5-3. Two pitches later, freshman Raphael Pelletier put a ball in the same spot, making the score 6-3.

“Today it was a challenge, we played well from behind,” Hughes said to K-State Athletics. “Missed some opportunities early, but we stayed with the game and stayed focused and built a really good lead in the seventh. No one panicked. That’s what good baseball teams do — they play from behind and they get big hits.”

K-State tacked on another run in the seventh and four in the eighth to give Omaha no shot at a comeback.

All-American slugger Dylan Phillips stepped up on the pitcher’s mound for the last out of the eighth and the ninth. Phillips struck out four of five batters to earn his second save of the season and end a three-hour and 45-minute game.

Freshman pitcher Tyler Ruhl picked up the win in 3.2 innings of relief, allowing five hits and one run with three strikeouts. Junior starting pitcher Wesley Moore received a no-decision after 3.1 innings of work with four hits, two runs (one earned) and three strikeouts. Freshman Tyson Neighbors pitched for 0.2 innings before being taken out for injury.

“Nice stretch for our team, five games in six days puts a lot of pressure on your pitching staff and really your team to be able to play at a high energy level, and we did that,” Hughes said to K-State Athletics. “More than proud of our team over this stretch.”

K-State turns its attention to UC Irvine at home this weekend, starting with a 6 p.m. game on Friday.