With two on and two out in the top of the ninth inning, Kansas State’s star utility player Dylan Phillips was summoned to the mound. He faced Kansas’ star player Maui Ahuna in an epic showdown and Ahuna won the battle, hitting the go-ahead RBI single in KU’s 5-3 victory.
“He has been closing out games for us, that’s when you bring him in,” K-State head coach Pete Hughes said about the decision to move Phillips from first to the mound. “If we had scored that run in the eighth inning, he would’ve thrown the ninth [inning] but we hit into the double play.”
Ahuna, the Hawaiian-born shortstop, had his fingerprints all over the win, leading the charge in crucial double-plays and runs-batted-in. He not only hit the go-ahead run home for the Jayhawks in the ninth but also tied the game with a solo home run in the eighth.
Despite a 3-2 pitcher’s duel heading into the seventh inning, both K-State’s Griffin Hassall and KU’s Daniel Hegarty gifted four solo homers in the game. By the end of the fireworks show, five were hit and the fifth was Ahuna’s.
All of K-State’s runs came off Dylan Phillips, Josh Nicoloff and Jeff Heinrich home runs, creating a buzz in the sold-out crowd at Tointon Family Stadium. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they were 0-for-5 in scoring position, arguably leading to their defeat.
“That was a heck of an atmosphere,” Hughes said about the crowd’s enthusiasm. “That was like nothing I’ve seen before around here, it was awesome.”
KU’s Daniel Hegarty has prided himself on closing games, something that’s rare in the baseball world today. Although Hegarty exited the game after eight innings of work, his three-runs-allowed performance was good enough to give his team a shot at the late rally to win.
Hegarty finished with 106 pitches, ten hits, three strikeouts and one walk. It’s not overpowering stuff, but the efficient ball placement got the better of the Wildcats, marking his sixth win of the season.
K-State had a chance to redeem the blown lead in the bottom half of the ninth inning but let a four-pitch leadoff walk go to waste. The tying run, Cole Johnson, was left hanging on third base following a strikeout looking, a lineout to right field and a catcher’s pop-fly.
Magic was in the hearts of rowdy K-State fans at Tointon Family Stadium, but there was no “Tointon Magic” on the field. The Wildcats dropped the series opener, allowing KU to swap places with K-State in Big 12 standings for last.
“It aggravates me because we couldn’t get a win in front of that crowd,” Hughes said. “That’s as good as a crowd as I’ve ever seen here.”
Both teams hold four wins apiece, but if the season ended now — KU wins the tiebreaker. However, the season isn’t ending now, and neither is the series.
K-State and KU will battle it out again tomorrow at 4 p.m. at Tointon Family Stadium. Tickets are available at K-State Sports, while viewing is available at Big 12 Now on ESPN Plus.