Underclassman give proper send-off to Wildcat baseball seniors

Sophomore Nick Goodwin throws the ball during the May 6, 2022 game against the University of Kansas at Tointon Family Stadium. (Archive photo by Sophie Osborn | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State baseball hosted the Baylor Bears for its last home series of the season and won two-out-of-three in wild fashion. The Wildcats bounced back from an uneventful Friday night loss with two late-inning rallies on Saturday and Sunday’s Senior Day.

There were multiple Wildcat heroes in Sunday afternoon’s win, including relief pitcher Ty Ruhl, senior all-American Dylan Phillips and sophomore Nick Goodwin. The Overland Park native’s role was the most electric, coming off one swing of the bat.

Down four runs in the bottom of the eighth, K-State’s offense was stagnant. The Wildcats uncharacteristically continued drawing walks and hitting singles but couldn’t formulate any extra-base hits to cash in those runs.

After six consecutive zeros along the bottom of the scoreboard, the Wildcats finally cashed in runs, and they came in bulk. The spark didn’t come from a walk or single, though.

Senior transfer Josh Nicoloff reached first on a hard-hit ball that caused an error at shortstop. Then, a familiar single kept the line going and set first-baseman Dylan Phillips up for an RBI single to right field.

“There towards the seventh, I tried reminding guy’s that last year’s Senior Day, we put up seven [runs] in the ninth,” Phillips said. “I think that kind of got us going there … The energy there in the eighth inning, that was big time for us.”

Baylor still led 5-2, but fans sensed Tointon magic in the air and became louder and louder. That’s when Dom Johnson drew a walk that turned into a run — multiple runs.

“The atmosphere here is 100 times better than anywhere else I’ve played,” sophomore Nick Goodwin said. “The passion [from players] and the drive that everyone has here, and our fan base is awesome. It’s a lot of fun to play here.”

With one out and bases loaded, right-handed batter Nick Goodwin scorched an outside pitch beyond the double-decked right-field wall for a grand slam and the lead. Following the blast, Cash Rugely put one beyond the same wall to give relief pitcher Ty Ruhl some cushion to work with during the ninth inning.

With a 7-5 lead, Ty Ruhl walked a batter and exited the game. The freshman pitcher threw five innings and only allowed one run, accompanying senior Terrence Spurlin in receiving a game ball from K-State head coach Pete Hughes.

In the ninth inning, Hughes aided a déjà vu moment from Saturday night’s late-inning win by pointing Dylan Phillips to the mound and putting Orlando Salinas Jr. at second. The leadoff walk from Ruhl recreated the closing scene where Phillips closed out a 7-5 victory against the Baylor Bears.

“I want to have the ball in that situation,” utility player Dylan Phillips said after the Senior Day win. “That’s just kind of who I am. I was fully confident that entire inning, even once the tying run got on, and just trusting my stuff.”

The heroes on Saturday consisted of just two Wildcats — one on the mound and one from behind the plate. Blake Corsentino took the keys from German Fajardo in a mid-game relief opportunity and didn’t disappoint.

After blowing a five-run lead in the fifth inning, Corsentino kept the game tied through 3.1 innings pitched. Finally, catcher Justin Mitchell said enough is enough and hit the go-ahead two-RBI single to right field to put K-State up 7-5.

Mitchell expressed several frustrations with the home plate umpire’s wide strike zone on Saturday. He knew there was nothing he could say to change it, so he adjusted.

“If the umpire’s going to call it, there’s nothing I can really do with it,” Mitchell said about his mindset. “So, just changed my sights, changed my approach and just have to stay with that pitch instead of taking it every time and getting frustrated.”

German Fajardo got his first weekend start in a K-State uniform this season and didn’t disappoint through four innings before Corsentino took over.

Fajardo struck out two Baylor Bears in four consecutive innings, all coming against back-to-back hitters. Even after tossing up a two-run homer in the fourth, he bounced back by striking out two additional hitters.

He didn’t bounce back from a three-run blast in the fifth inning, which is why Corsentino came in to settle things down and keep things tied. However, the Arizona transfer finished with nine strikeouts on the evening and is expected to be in the weekend rotation moving forward.

“I think he’s a rotation guy,” Hughes said about German Fajardo’s talent after Saturday’s win. “If you look at the numbers over the last 10 games, no one’s even close to him on our staff.”

With the series win, K-State finished the season 21-7 at home, similar to last season’s 24-7 home record. Both senior nights finished on comeback grand slams, with last season’s coming in walk-off fashion against a ranked TCU squad.

“It’s the people, it’s our fan experience — it’s like a rock concert,” Hughes said. “If you go to other ballparks in this league, all of them, it’s not like this.”

The Wildcats have four remaining road games leading into the Big 12 tournament. The first is a midweek matchup against No. 5 Virginia Tech, the second against a tough West Virginia Mountaineer team.

The Virginia Tech game is set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday in Blacksburg, Virginia. Viewing is limited to ACC Network Extra (ACCNX), listening is available on KMAN Radio.