For Kansas State, the hardest part of a 4-3 victory over Texas Tech on the opening day of the Big 12 baseball tournament at Bricktown Ballpark might have been waiting for it to start.
Baseball hasn’t felt like a priority for the Wildcats since arriving in Oklahoma City on Monday. Players watched news telecasts of the tornado destruction in nearby Moore, adjusted their schedules to the tournament’s new format on Tuesday and provided help and nearly $3,000 worth of supplies to the disaster relief effort on Wednesday.
Then, when they tried to turn their focus to winning the conference tournament on Thursday they were met with thunderstorms and a three-hour delay.
“That was crazy,” first baseman Shane Conlon said, “but we wanted to help out with the tornado relief yesterday. That took our mind off baseball, but that is what is important right now more than getting ready for baseball. It’s huge to help those families over there.
“Today, with the rain, too, it’s just a mental game. We always talk about it, staying locked in. We have done a pretty good job with it all year, so that really didn’t bother us.”
Not after a shaky start, anyway. The Wildcats looked rusty during the first 3 1/2 innings, falling behind 2-1 on a two-run home run by Tech’s Eric Gutierrez while going hitless against Trey Masek.
But even the best pitchers have a hard time holding down K-State, which led the Big 12 in hitting during the regular season.
Moments after it looked like the top-seeded Wildcats might be in trouble, they erupted with a three-run inning to swing the game.
Tanner Witt led off the surge with a double, Shane Conlon followed with a single and Jared King drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to left field. Then Kyle Speer came to the plate in place of starting shortstop Austin Fisher, who left because of a lingering back injury, and ripped a double to the right-field fence to give the Wildcats a 3-2 lead. He later scored on a sacrifice fly from Jon Davis.
That proved to be enough for K-State (40-16), though Texas Tech (25-29) made things interesting until reliever Jake Matthys entered with a one-run lead in the eighth.
The No. 8 seed Red Raiders scored their third run in the sixth after chasing K-State starter Blake McFadden, who earned the win. But they couldn’t muster a hit against Matthys, the Big 12 freshman of the year. K-State’s top reliever struck out four and earned a two-inning save while lowering his ERA to 1.93.
“Once Matthys settled in it was really difficult for them,” K-State baseball coach Brad Hill said.
By using only three pitchers, the Wildcats will have options in their upcoming games starting at 12:30 p.m. Friday when Levi MaVorhis takes the mound against Baylor.
“We got a great start out of Blake and Nate (Williams) came in and did his job. I just came in and tried to throw strikes and do my job,” Matthys said. “I threw whatever Blair (DeBord) called and hoped it went to the right spot. It felt good to get that win I have all the trust in the world in my team and my hitters. I hope they have the same trust in me.”
If they continue playing the way they did during the final six innings Thursday, the Wildcats trust they will advance to the tournament’s championship game on Sunday.
Winning is once again their focus after a few trying days.
“No one has thought a lot about baseball,” Hill said. “It’s really very difficult to be locked in and preparing and doing all those things when your mind is with a lot of people who have been through a devastating loss of home and loss of life. Maybe today was nice to get back to baseball, but at the same time it is still in the back of our minds.”
When Taylor is at his best and he gets six runs of support it can feel like the Jayhawks are on cruise control.
That’s what happened during a 7-2 victory over No. 3 seed West Virginia. No. 6 Kansas took a 2-0 run lead in the first inning, and Taylor protected it beautifully. The senior from Overland Park allowed one run on four hits while striking out four and retiring 18 straight before exiting in the eighth.
“Anytime you are on a losing streak, in order to get that thing turned around it starts with your starting pitcher,” KU coach Ritch Price. “For us, certainly, today Thomas gave us the effort we needed to get the lead early. He managed to hold them off and keep them at bay until we could add to it.”
The Jayhawks led 6-1 when Taylor came out, and ended a six-game skid when Jordan Piche’ closed things out on the mound.
Kansas will face No. 2 seed Oklahoma State at 7:30 p.m. Friday. A victory would put KU in ideal shape to reach the tournament’s championship game on Sunday. For a team trying to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, that’s the mission.
“We came here with the goal to play ourselves back in,” Price said. “That’s the great thing about being in a BCS conference. You get the opportunity to do so late in the year. I thought tonight was a huge step in that direction for us.”
KSU 4, Texas Tech 3
|Texas Tech||000||201||000||—||3 6 0|
|Kansas St.||010||300||00x||—||4 6 0|
W — McFadden (6-2). L — Masek (5-2). Save — Matthys (7). HR — Tech: Gutierrez (7).
KU 7, West Virginia 2
|Kansas||200||000||221||—||7 12 0|
|W. Virginia||010||000||010||—||2 7 3|
W — Taylor (6-2). L — Dierdorff (4-8).