MANHATTAN — As they watched the heart of Texas' lineup smash three solo home runs in the first inning Sunday at Tointon Family Stadium, Kansas State baseball players feared the worst.
Coming off a 15-run loss to the Longhorns less than 24 hours earlier, such pessimism was understandable. But those feelings of gloom didn't last long. Once K-State starter Justin Lindsey settled in, and the Wildcats got a homer of their own from Carter Jurica, their rubber game with the top-ranked Longhorns turned into a thriller.
It wasn't until Texas closer Chance Ruffin got K-State's Nick Martini to ground into a game-ending double play that the Longhorns could celebrate a 6-5 victory, which gave them a series win at two games to one.
For K-State, the close finish helped ease the sting of defeat.
"Even though we lost the series," said Jurica, a shortstop, "there are a lot of good things to take away from this."
With six games remaining in the regular season, K-State coach Brad Hill knows what he will take away from the trio of games.
"The kids fought hard today," Hill said. "They fought hard and competed. We just came up a little short."
That fight initially came from Jurica in the bottom of the first inning, when he answered Texas' three home run blasts — from Cohl Walla, Russell Moldenhauer and Kevin Keyes — with a solo shot of his own. Then Lindsey got to work.
During the next four innings he kept Longhorns hitters guessing, and allowed no runs. By the time he left in the fifth inning, he had struck out nine and the Wildcats were on top 5-3.
"My hat is off to (Lindsey)," said Texas coach Augie Garrido. "He gave up three home runs and he never flinched. He kept coming after them, hitting the mitt. Never showed any fear of anybody. I think that's what kept them in the game, and he did a good job."
The Wildcats (32-15 overall, 11-9 Big 12) took the lead with a four-run fourth inning. After getting runners at second and third, Tanner Witt came through with a key single to score two. He later scored on a sacrifice fly from Jurica, and Adam Muenster touched home on a Martini single.
Most of that offense came against Brandon Workman, who came into the game with a 9-1 record. By game's end, K-State finished with nine hits.
"I thought that was really good," Jurica said. "Especially after yesterday's loss, when we didn't compete well at the plate."
That wasn't a problem on Sunday. Texas (41-8, 21-3) simply swung the bat better.
No one hit the ball harder than Keyes, who crushed two home runs and came through with a clutch single with the bases loaded in the seventh to give Texas a 6-5 advantage.
He said he hit several long balls during batting practice, and could feel a big game coming on.
"He was the force today," Garrido said.
K-State had chances to even the score, and put runners on base in each of the final two innings. But it couldn't get the big hit it needed to drive them home.
In hopes of fixing that problem, Hill said he will now give his players some time off before their next series with rival Kansas, which starts on Friday in Lawrence, and the season finale at Texas A&M the week after.
"I want some fresh bodies for the next two weekends," Hill said. "Those are two big weekends for us to determine our future."