Wichita State tried its best starter and best long reliever. Then it tried a pitcher buried in the bullpen, before moving up and down in the pecking order before bringing in a freshman from right field.
No matter the pitcher, it all looked the same. A lot of walks. A lot of trips to the mound. A lot of hits for top-seeded Kansas State, which hammered WSU 20-11 on Friday in the opening game of the Manhattan Regional. Fourth-seeded WSU returned to a regional for the first time since 2009 and looked every bit like a team unsure how to pitch against top competition. Kansas State put the game away with an embarrassing nine-run first inning and kept the pressure on against a parade of ineffective pitchers.
“That is about as poor as we can pitch,” WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. “Our pitchers looked nervous to me.”
The 20 runs are the most scored against the Shockers in NCAA play, topping a 19-1 loss to Arizona State in the 1988 College World Series.
KSU (42-17) advances to Saturday’s 7 p.m. game against Bryant. WSU (39-27) plays Arkansas at 2 p.m. Saturday in an elimination game.
The conditions set up well for nerves. No Shocker has played in an NCAA regional. The pitchers knew the problems presented by Kansas State’s tenacious hitters. As a result, the pitching gave WSU no chance. The Wildcats blew up the plan of staying close with starter Cale Elam backed by Albert Minnis in relief.
“The pitchers, you could tell, were a little timid,” WSU catcher Tyler Baker said. “We haven’t been here before. Those guys can hit. If you’re going to miss a spot, they’re going to hit it.”
Seven WSU pitchers allowed 19 hits, walked nine batters and hit six. Five K-State pitchers allowed 12 hits and walked five.
“Neither team wanted to play like that,” Kansas State coach Brad Hill said. “It was ugly, we won and that is the good thing about it.”
Elam came unraveled slowly in the first, almost unfairly. Two Wildcats reached on infield hits. With one out, he picked a runner off first and his second baseman fumbled a low throw to ruin the rundown. Elam contributed to the ugliness with a walk and hit the last batter he faced. The Wildcats mixed in two solid singles and ended Elam’s day after he faced seven batters and recorded one out.
“They put pressure on us with their plate discipline,” Elam said. “You cannot walk people and you definitely cannot hit people. It was a bad baseball day for us.”
Elam departed down 4-2, after hitting Daniel DeBord. Minnis got the second out and then gave up three straight singles and the Wildcats led 7-2. He hit Shane Conlon to load the bases and walked Jared King to force in a run. Zach Beringer, a little-used reliever, replaced Minnis and walked Jon Davis to force in another run for a 9-2 Kansas State lead. A ground ball to first baseman Casey Gillaspie ended the 49-minute inning, one in which the Shockers grabbed a 2-0 lead and never challenged again.
The Wildcats, who lead the Big 12 in hitting, are used to big innings. They reached double figures for the 14th time this season. Elam threw 28 pitches and gave up four hits and six runs. Minnis threw 17 pitches, also getting one out, and allowed three hits and three runs. The Wildcats wore them down with patience and an ability to put the ball in play.
“We take pride in getting after good pitching,” second baseman Ross Kivett said. “When we got Minnis out of there, too, that kind of sparked that we knew it was going to be a boat race.”
WSU’s hitters tried to keep pace. The Shockers cut the lead to 9-4 in the top of the third. K-State responded with two runs. WSU scored twice in the fifth to make it 12-6. The Wildcats kept scoring. Ross Kivett homered twice for the Wildcats, driving in four runs. Tanner Witt went 4 for 5 and scored four times.
“I love 20 runs,” Hill said. “I just hate giving up 11.”
Casey Gillaspie drove in three runs for WSU. Johnny Coy went 2 for 4, doubling twice, and drove in three. Baker doubled twice and scored twice.
WSU can win with that kind of offense. The pitching needs to recover for the Shockers to avoid a trip home on Saturday.