West Virginia sweeps Wildcat baseball in final Big 12 regular-season series

Sophomore German Fajardo pitches the ball during the May 3, 2022 game against Wichita State at Tointon Family Stadium. (Archive photo by Sophie Osborn | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State baseball traveled to Morgantown, West Virginia, hoping to make a statement to the NCAA tournament committee with a sweep. That statement was severely reversed as the West Virginia Mountaineers swept the Wildcats in a three-game series.

K-State head coach Pete Hughes stressed the importance of finishing the regular season 4-0 on the road against two likely tournament teams. However, the road trip got off to a rocky start against the third-best team in the country, Virginia Tech, losing 8-2 on Tuesday evening.

The loss carried over into Thursday’s game one contest against West Virginia, getting whooped 15-4. Friday night’s game duplicated Thursday’s 15-4 result, while K-State lost 5-1 in Saturday’s afternoon matchup.

The three-game series told the story of the Wildcat’s season – that they’re successful at home but struggle on the road. It concluded K-State’s season with a 1-11 Big 12 road record, compared to a 7-5 home conference record.

The first 15-4 affair was ugly from the start, with West Virginia fronting a seven-run lead after just three innings. K-State scored two runs in the fifth and one in the seventh to keep the game from getting worse, but the Mountaineers hammered relief pitchers Ben Weber (two runs surrendered) and Elijah Dale (five runs allowed).

“The third inning set the tone for the whole game,” K-State head coach Pete Hughes said to K-State Athletics. “I was disappointed because we had our chances to get back into that thing in the fourth and fifth innings. We just weren’t able to get big hits and they did.”

K-State’s senior transfer Josh Nicoloff and junior Cash Rugely were responsible for one run apiece, while Brady Day crossed the plate twice. Day and Rugely have played in the past two Big 12 series and have stepped up to the plate.

What’s no surprise is that Dom Johnson knocked in three of K-State’s four runs on Thursday evening, with three RBIs. All-American Dylan Phillips knocked the other run in.

West Virginia got ahead in game two of the series, similar to game one, taking command in the third and fourth innings this time and getting out to an early 11-0 lead.

K-State scored two runs in the fifth inning and one in the seventh like Thursday’s game. The Wildcats earned their fourth in the eighth inning, but it was too-little-too-late at that point.

“To beat West Virginia, you’ve got to minimize free passes, and we didn’t do that,” Hughes said to K-State Athletics. “You’ve got to control the big inning, and we didn’t do that. The last component to beat West Virginia is to control the running game, and we were deficient in that area.”

The Mountaineers scored four insurance runs in the sixth inning to give themselves 15 runs, enough to secure the series victory.

Rugely made another impact for the Wildcats, this time hitting in the two-spot in the lineup. He didn’t score any runs but smacked two RBIs to help K-State get on the board.

Dom Johnson, Nick Goodwin, Justin Mitchell and Cole Johnson each scored one run to total K-State’s four. Cole Johnson and Goodwin contributed with their bats alongside Rugely, adding RBIs to their names.

German Fajardo started on the mound in Friday’s matchup, exiting the game with a disappointing seven runs, six earned to his name. He only pitched 3.1 innings but gave up four hits and six walks to help West Virginia accomplish that seven-spot on the scoreboard.

Blake Corsentino surrendered eight runs, three earned. He matched Fajardo’s three strikeout performance but tossed nine hits and a walk.

“We’ve got a quick turnaround and got to get better in those three areas: limit walks, damage control the big inning and control their running game,” Hughes said to K-State Athletics in advance of the series finale.

The final game of the series was more competitive, toting a 5-1 final score. West Virginia got started early like the previous two games but only scored one in the first inning and two in the third.

Wildcat catcher Pelletier did a decent job limiting the running game, showcasing a “strike ’em out, throw ’em out” double play on his throw down to third base. However, West Virginia still found success at getting runners home.

K-State matched the Mountaineer run in the second inning to tie it at one run, but that was the only run the Wildcats scored. West Virginia scored two insurance runs in the eighth inning to finish a comfortable victory in the ninth inning.

The starting pitcher in Wildcat gray was utility player Dylan Phillips, throwing three innings and giving up three runs, two earned. Relief pitchers Christian Ruebeck and Griffin Hassall threw two innings apiece, allowing zero runs, while Ty Ruhl surrendered the two Mountaineer runs in the eighth inning.

Kaelen Culpepper scored the lone Wildcat run in the second inning on a solo home run. The other four hits came from four different batters, meaning no Wildcats had a multi-hit performance.

The four-game losing streak to finish the season concludes K-State’s season with a .500 record at 27-27. The Wildcats’ home record was 21-7, while their road record was 6-17, finishing 8-16 in conference play.

K-State awaits its first opponent in the Big 12 tournament, scheduled to play at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, May 25. Viewing is available on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.