Dom Johnson makes history in comeback against UC Irvine

Sophomore Dominic Johnson up to bat during the match against Northern Colorado on March 30, 2022. The Wildcats beat the Bears 10-7. (Archive photo by Sophie Osborn | Collegian Media Group)

With powerful wind gusts up to 50 mph, everything was going wrong for Kansas State baseball until the seventh inning when UC Irvine was forced to pull starting pitcher Nick Pinto. The Wildcats took full advantage of it, overcoming a 5-1 deficit to slug for an 11-run seventh inning and 13-8 victory.

Jeff Heinrich and Brady Day got things rolling with two base hits into the gaps, Heinrich’s a single and Day’s a double. Dom Johnson took quick advantage of his two teammates on base and golfed a three-run homer to left.

Johnson was able to rake the ball because of a scouting report from veteran Wildcat catcher Justin Mitchell. Anteater relief pitcher Gordon Ingebritson has a funky delivery, but it didn’t faze the two.

“He’s like, his slider is gonna break up because he’s a submarine guy — [the ball] was gonna break up across the plate, and I was sitting on it because I hit a fastball hard my last at-bat,” Johnson said. “I got the slider in my first pitch, and I was able to hit it.”

The comeback was complete: the home run tied the game at five-apiece. However, K-State floored its engines and took off to display staggering numbers in the seventh inning score column, with a side of history to accompany it.

“Oh, the game was over, we were gonna win,” Johnson said about how he felt after he tied the game up. “No matter … like, I knew for a fact we were gonna win that game. We were all ready to go. It was electric.”

Following Nick Goodwin’s go-ahead RBI-double off the bullpen wall, catcher Justin Mitchell poked a two-RBI single up the middle, then Brady Day replicated another two-RBI single off the mound. The score read 10-5, but Johnson wouldn’t let it stand.

With two runners on, much like the home run earlier in the inning, Dom Johnson nuked another three-run bomb to left field. The copy-and-pasted three-run blast made Johnson the first Wildcat ballplayer since 1988 to hit two home runs in a single inning.

“I’m just glad to be in the record books. It’s a cool thing,” Johnson said. “Just to be part of history forever now is amazing to me.”

The 11-run seventh inning left the Anteaters in shock, but the game wasn’t done yet. After a scoreless eighth inning from both clubs, UC Irvine went down swinging by homering twice for three runs in the ninth inning.

It wasn’t enough to come back though, as utility-player Dylan Phillips shut the rally attempt down with two strikeouts and closed the game.

“Like I told the team, that wasn’t a good win, that was a great win,” head coach Pete Hughes said. “We did a lot of things that good teams do. We played from behind, we took a lead and we expanded.”

UC Irvine’s Nick Pinto carved up K-State batters in 5.2 innings pitched, sitting down nine from strikeouts. The sophomore outpitched Wildcat pitcher Blake Adams, who surrendered five runs (four earned) because of five extra base hits: four doubles and a home run.

Only a few players in the Wildcat batting order kept things reasonably at bay before the massive seventh-inning comeback. The most significant of them all was senior transfer Jeff Heinrich, who went 3-4 with a third-inning home run to tie the game before the Anteater’s three-run fourth inning.

The former South Carolina Gamecock totes a .333 batting average, and six of his 16 hits are home runs. Before doubling later in the contest, over 40 percent of his hits this season were home runs.

“That’s a pretty cool stat,” Heinrich said.

Heinrich recognizes that wind gusts at Tointon Family Stadium can help push homers over the left-field wall. Although, most of these bombs are no-doubters.

“Like you can see today, at the point, the wind just gushes out, so you know, it doesn’t hurt to elevate — celebrate a little bit,” Heinrich said. “Those are probably out on any day.”

Another player that contributed to damage control was relief pitcher German Fajardo. Coming in in the fifth inning and exiting in the ninth, Fajardo allowed three runs on two hits and four walks but struck out four ‘Eaters.

It wasn’t eye-popping, but it was enough to give Wildcat hitters an opportunity to rally, then hold onto that lead, where K-State won 13-8 in a three-hour, 15-minute showcase.

The Wildcats face UC Irvine for the second time at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Tointon Family Stadium. A win indicates K-State’s second consecutive three-game series victory at home. Tickets are available at K-State Sports, while viewing is available on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.