Small ball helps Wildcat baseball win third consecutive game

Outfielder Dom Hughes lays a bunt down in the Wildcat' win against Army. Hughes' safety squeeze helped K-State score four runs in the seventh inning. (Chase Hagemann | Collegian Media Group)

Helicopters and baseballs flew all over the ballpark at Tointon Family Stadium on Sunday. Following a crushing defeat against Stonehill, Army West Point lost its second game of the weekend against Kansas State, falling 14-8 in a back-and-forth contest.

“What I’m most proud of is our team’s playing from behind,” K-State head coach Pete Hughes said. “That’s a winning quality and it’s tough to develop. Some years you have it and some years you don’t, but we answer — we’ve been like that all year.”

Army swung heavy bats in the first inning, jumping to an early 3-0 lead. Catcher Derek Berg led off the game with a bomb over the left-center wall and three-hole hitter Ross Friedrick copied Berg with a home run of his own. The Black Knights scored a third run on an RBI-sac fly from Justin Lehman.

K-State responded with a three-and-out at the plate and in the field before knotting the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the second inning. A pair of doubles, a walk and an RBI-sac fly summarized the Wildcat offensive outing. Raphael Pelletier led-off with a double prior to Orlando Salinas Jr., rewarding his catcher and Roberto Pena with a two-run shot to the gap. Dom Hughes then scored Salinas on a deep fly ball.

Infielder Orlando Salinas Jr. twirls his bat in preparation for the pitch. Salinas tallied 5 RBI in K-State’s 14-8 win against Army. (Chase Hagemann | Collegian Media Group)

The Wildcats took the lead with a two-run homer in the third, its first home run of the game. Nick Goodwin reached base with a single and stole second before the dinger. Brady Day then delivered his first home run of the season past the 375-foot distanced wall in right-center.

“I was seeing the fastball really well,” Day said. “Some of their guys weren’t lending their breaking balls so I knew I could kind of eliminate that in my approach and just sit fastball.”

Army regained the lead with another three-spot in the fifth inning, knocking German Fajardo’s fastball around the diamond. Similar to the first inning, Berg and Friedrick manufactured productive at-bats. Berg got nailed up-and-in in his leadoff at bat, Sam Ruta singled in the two-hole and Friedrick scored Berg on a double to right-center.

Fajardo exited the game after surrendering the run. However, his final line read four innings pitched, six hits and six earned runs after relief pitcher Shay Hartis allowed two-RBI sac flies to deep center field. Hartis journeyed to earn his first collegiate win with the help of K-State’s offense.

Hartis permitted the game-tying run in the top of the seventh inning when Army’s Braden Golinski smoked a two-run homer. Luckily for Hartis, the Wildcats’ creative offensive approach obtained the lead after the stretch and Hartis finished with two hits and two runs allowed in five innings pitched.

Pitcher Shay Hartis hurls a four-seam fastball past an Army batter. Hartis earned his first collegiate win in five innings of work. (Chase Hagemann | Collegian Media Group)

“I’m really proud of our guys, and I’m proud of Shay Hartis,” Hughes said. “I think he did a phenomenal job at slowing everyone down against a very very good lineup, a very very good Army team.”

At the heart of K-State’s glory is small ball, placing two bunts down in back-to-back plate appearances. Salinas’ soft chopper down the first base line scored Pelletier to take the lead prior to left-handed batter Hughes’ safety squeeze to score Pena. Lefty Brendan Jones immediately placed another bunt down to score Cole Johnson and extend K-State’s lead to 11-8. A RBI-sac fly scored another run.

“They made a move out of their bullpen to match up left-left and I kind of neutralized that by the bunt game,” Hughes said. “We went safety [squeeze] and then we went double squeeze but we didn’t get the back end running. It’s just a good way to put pressure on a team, make them make plays and the bunt game is tough to defend.”

Salinas rocketed an opposite field two-run homer to right field for the cherry on top in K-State’s win. The ring heard around the park marked his fifth RBI in a two-for-five performance, leading Goodwin and Day. Goodwin’s three RBIs came directly from his sixth inning three-run homer to give K-State its lead back.

K-State plays Stonehill at 4 p.m. on Monday, March 6 for its fourth straight win at Tointon. Tickets are available at K-State Sports while viewing is accessible on ESPN+ at Big 12 Now.