For a game that was essentially meaningless to both teams, Kansas State’s 13-9 victory over Baylor on the second day of the Big 12 Tournament sure was interesting.
The fifth-seeded Bears led by as many as five runs early, the No. 1 seed Wildcats led by a run midway through and the outcome was up for grabs late. It wasn’t until K-State exploded with five runs in the top of the ninth inning behind Jon Davis, Tanner Witt and Lance Miles that the back-and-forth game was finally decided.
“Talk about perseverance, resiliency and just desire to win,” K-State baseball coach Brad Hill said. “There are a lot of intangible things in there. It was a great job by our guys. It wasn’t pretty. We walked a lot of people and made some errors today we don’t normally make.
“Offensively we picked it up and had some great at-bats and found a way to come back. Credit our players. They were in this thing all day, and they played to win.”
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On most days, that wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary. But remember, this game meant little to everyone involved.
Moments before the Bears (27-27) and Wildcats (41-16) took the field at Bricktown Ballpark, they learned nothing that happened on Friday would alter their chances of advancing to the tournament’s championship game. When Oklahoma began the day by blowing out Texas Tech, the Bears were eliminated from title contention and the Wildcats were unable to improve their position within pool play.
No matter what happened between K-State and Baylor, tournament tiebreaker rules turned Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. game between Oklahoma and K-State into a play-in game of sorts. The winner will advance to the final. The loser will head home.
In some ways, the Wildcats could have benefited from a game that didn’t last 3 hours, 33 minutes. Even if it was a loss. But that wasn’t their approach. They wanted a victory to boost their chances of hosting a regional in the NCAA Tournament.
“That took a lot out of us today,” Hill said. “That was a long time out in that sun. For the purposes of the tournament … it doesn’t really mean anything … but, possibly, for us it could be huge. We might get to be in Manhattan next week with that win. We feel like maybe we should be after that win for sure.”
Hill thinks the NCAA selection committee should reward K-State for a 41-win season. Another victory, and a trip to the Big 12 Tournament final, will help even more. So motivation will be easy to find on Saturday.
That wasn’t necessarily the case on Friday, but that didn’t stop Baylor and K-State from putting up runs. Baylor jumped out to a 5-0 lead after three innings, but K-State pulled to within 5-4 following an explosive fourth inning. Witt, Shane Conlon, Jared King and Davis started the inning with consecutive singles and suddenly it was a game.
Baylor answered K-State’s surge with two runs of its own in the bottom of the fourth to take a 7-4 lead, but the Wildcats came through with another four runs in the sixth inning to take an 8-7 lead.
For the second straight day, K-State battled back from an early deficit with everyone in the lineup contributing.
Davis might have done the most. The senior went 2 for 5, and hit a game-altering single in the ninth inning that gave K-State a 10-9 lead. Baylor entered the inning with a 9-8 advantage, but wasn’t able to finish off the game. Witt started the ninth with a single, and K-State loaded the bases when Conlon and King both drew walks.
It was a pressure-packed moment for Davis. His main thought was don’t “ground into a double-play.” And he came through when his team needed him by knocking a two-run single into right field.
“We have come from behind to win a lot of games this year,” Davis said. “For some reason, I knew we were going to come from behind and win that game. Everyone in the dugout wanted it, and we were pushing pretty hard to win that game. I don’t get too excited too often, so I don’t think I was excited during that one, but it felt good.”
K-State, which had 12 hits, added three more runs for insurance. Then Gerardo Esquivel (1-2) threw a drama-free ninth inning to finish the game.
It didn’t mean anything in the quest for a Big 12 Tournament championship. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t important.
“It’s hard to come back from a 5-0 deficit, but I honestly don’t think anyone on our team was worried when we were down 5-0,” King said. “If we are playing baseball and we are playing for K-State, no matter if we need to win or not we are going to go as hard as we can … The way we fought today was really special and it’s been keeping us rolling this whole season.”