LAWRENCE — No lead is ever really safe in college baseball.
But it is fair to say that Kansas felt pretty secure on Saturday after taking a six-run lead against in-state rival K-State. The Jayhawks had the Big 12’s best reliever fully rested, and were cruising toward a victory that would have tied the Sunflower Showdown series at one game apiece.
Well, they were, anyway, until K-State countered with a late-game offensive that carried the Wildcats to a 9-6 victory on Saturday. Sophomore shortstop Austin Fisher delivered the go-ahead RBIs with a two-run blast to right in the top of the ninth.
Austin’s decisive homer came against KU closer Jordan Piche, who was uncharacteristically tagged for five earned runs after entering the day with a 0.71 ERA and a Big 12-leading 10 saves in 51 innings.
“We knew he didn’t have his best stuff today,” Fisher said, “and you could see that. I know he’s sharper than that.”
On the heels of a 4-3 victory on Friday night, K-State (36-15 overall and 13-7 in the Big 12) stayed atop the conference standings. Kansas, meanwhile, was mathematically eliminated from the Big 12 title race after dropping to 31-20 overall and 12-11 in the Big 12.
“With a metal-bat game,” Kansas coach Ritch Price said, “You gotta keep adding. You can’t sit on a 6-1 lead when the wind’s blowing out.”
The Jayhawks did plenty of damage early, nicking K-State right-hander Matt Wivinis for six earned runs in 2 2/3 innings. KU first baseman Alex DeLeon smacked two home runs, and senior shortstop Kevin Kuntz added a two-run double as KU took a 6-0 lead into the fourth inning.
The Wildcats fought back with a solo run in the fourth and three runs in the sixth, and Price called on Piche, his most trustworthy stopper, in the seventh inning. But on Saturday, he left too many pitches up in the zone, and the Wildcats made him pay.
Fisher trimmed the KU lead to 6-5 with an RBI single in the seventh, increasing his team-leading batting average to .355, and Jon Davis pulled K-State even with an RBI double.
And that simply set up the ninth, when Fisher and designated hitter Mitch Meyer blew open the game with a pair of no-doubt homers to right field.
“They’re pretty good hitters,” said Piche, a junior-college transfer who dropped to 6-3 on the season. “(On) 0-2 counts, they’ll battle back. And if you leave a slider up, they’ll get you for it.”
K-State reliever Nate Williams (4-3) earned the win after coming on and throwing three scoreless inning. And altogether, K-State’s bullpen combined for 6 1/3 scoreless innings.
“We feel we can come back from any situation,” said Fisher, who finished 2 for 5 with three RBIs. “We just knew we had to get the bats rolling a little bit.”
K-State will go for a series sweep in the finale at 1 p.m. on Sunday. The Jayhawks need a victory to prop up their NCAA postseason credentials. But K-State, with a home series against Oklahoma looming next week, can take another step toward a league title with a third victory in Lawrence.
“If we keep winning, we control our own destiny,” Fisher said. “So we’re definitely taking care of us first.”
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W — Williams (4-3). L — Piche (6-3). Save — Witt (7). HR — KSU: Fisher (2), Meyer (4); KU: DeLeon 2 (9).
KSU batting: Kivett 1-5, Witt 0-5, Conlon 1-4, King 2-5, Fisher 2-5, Davis 2-4, Meyer 1-4, Miles 2-3, Speer 0-2, Bee 1-4.
KU batting: Protacio 1-5, Kuntz 1-5, Suiter 0-5, DeLeon 3-4, Dreiling 1-4, Smith 1-3, McKay 0-4, Eldredge 1-3, Tharp 1-4.
KSU pitching: Wivinis 2 2/3-6, Flattery 1/3-0, Witcig 2-0, Williams 3-0, Witt 1-0.
KU pitching: Benjamin 6-2, Piche 3-5.