LAWRENCE — The night pressed on. Kansas coach Ritch Price kept burning through his bullpen. And Kansas State coach Brad Hill kept searching for a way to escape in a rare non-conference game against an in-state rival.
It was Wednesday night at Hoglund Ballpark, fewer than 24 hours after K-State had fallen in 15 innings to Wichita State — and just an hour or so after the Jayhawks surrendered a five-run lead after one inning.
Finally, in the bottom of the 11th, KU third baseman Zac Elgie broke the stalemate against K-State reliever Johnny Fasola with a towering home run that landed just to the left of the 400-foot sign in center field.
Kansas 8, K-State 7.
“Growing up,” Elgie said, “you die and you live, and that’s what you want to do… hit a walk-off home run. It couldn’t happen against a better team on a better night.”
Just minutes earlier, Elgie said, he’d moved toward shortstop Kevin Kunz during a pitching change in the top of the 11th. It had been a game that included 12 pitchers — eight for Kansas — and the rare sight of K-State pinch-hitting its pitcher for the designated hitter in the top of the 11th. And Elgie wanted to relay a simple message to Kunz.
“I was like, ‘Kunz,’ ” Elgie said. “If they’re going to throw a first-pitch fastball, I’m gonna take a leg kick and I’m gonna try to end it.”
Three hours and 39 minutes after first pitch, it worked. And it was fitting, too, after KU center fielder Tucker Tharp led off the bottom of the first with a solo homer.
“I’ve never seen it,” Price said of a game with a leadoff and walkoff homer.
Tharp’s homer had erased a 1-0 deficit and sparked a six-run first inning. The Jayhawks, 17-25, would then build a 7-2 lead after five innings before K-State chipped away. The most crucial runs came with two outs in the ninth against KU reliever Tanner Poppe. First baseman Wade Hinkle added the muscle on a two-run blast to right, and right fielder Mike Kindel followed with an RBI single up the middle.