Correction: The print version of this story indicated K-State’s series against Oregon State starts Friday. The series starts Saturday.
At first, it was just a thought. Nothing concrete. Just a couple of teammates telling each other to be accountable, no matter what, and to never give up when the chips were down.
Nobody can say now, exactly, when it became something else. But its results are now a part of history.
The Kansas State baseball team, for the first time, is going to an NCAA Super Regional.
“It’s something that has to come from within,” K-State coach Brad Hill. “We’ve got a bunch of fighters, a bunch of believers.”
The Wildcats rallied from a 3-0 deficit for a 4-3 win on Sunday night in front of a packed Tointon Family Stadium — 2,661 fans — as they closed out the first regional in Manhattan in grand fashion. Arkansas defeated Bryant 12-3 Sunday afternoon to earn the right to play the Wildcats.
K-State, the Big 12 champion, will travel to Corvallis, Ore., to take on Oregon State in a three-game series beginning Saturday . The winner advances to the College World Series in Omaha.
“There’s a little bit of magic (in Manhattan),” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “There has been all year.”
Arkansas put K-State in an early hole, getting to starting pitcher Blake McFadden in the first inning. The Razorbacks opened with back-to-back hits on a single from Joe Serrano and a double from Dominic Ficociello and both scored on an RBI single by Brian Anderson. The Razorbacks added one more run in the inning on an RBI single by Matt Vinson that scored Anderson for a 3-0 lead.
Arkansas chased McFadden in the second inning, loading the bases with two outs before K-State brought in Gerardo Esquivel, who got Tyler Spoon to pop out and end the inning. McFadden gave up three earned runs on five hits.
Esquivel picked up the win, going 4 1/3 innings while giving up 1 hit, no runs and striking out one.
“I knew if I gave our guys a chance, if I could put up four zeroes, that would give us a chance,” Esquivel said. “I handed the ball to Nate (Williams) and he did a good job and then Jake (Matthys) finished it off.”
K-State began to rally in the fourth inning on an RBI single by Blair DeBord that scored Jon Davis to make the score 3-1, and a pinch-hit sacrifice fly RBI by Mitch Meyer to make it 3-2.
“I should have learned by now never to count these guys out,” Hill said. “Every game they continue to go out and do it with perseverance, with resiliency.”
In the seventh inning, Arkansas relief pitcher Jalen Beeks single-handedly put K-State in the lead, walking Kivett and Witt to open the inning and then allowing both to score on two wild pitches while Jared King was batting — the first as Beeks was trying to issue an intentional walk — that gave the Wildcats a 4-3 lead. Beeks only had two wild pitches the entire season before Sunday night.
“I’ve heard of that happening in big games, but I’ve never had it happen to my team,” Van Horn said. “Jalen didn’t lose the game for us I don’t know what happened right there. (The ball) just got away from him.”
Arkansas had the winning run at the plate in the ninth inning after Joe Serrano singled with two outs, but Dominic Ficociello lined out to Witt in left field for the final out, touching off a wild celebration by the Wildcats on the field. K-State’s players and coaches came over to the dugout on the visitor’s side — their home the last two games — and tipped their hats to the crowd.
“We’d never even practiced in that dugout this year,” Hill said, laughing. “I guess that’s something we need to work on for if we ever get to host a regional again.”
All-Big 12 relief pitcher and Big 12 freshman of the year Matthys came on to get the save for the Wildcats for the second night in a row, pitching the final two innings. Beeks took the loss.
“I don’t think any game is out of reach for us,” Matthys said. “Once we started coming back you just kind of knew that we could finish it off.”
Another thought that turned into a reality.
“We don’t have one leader that’s going to take control of the ballclub,” K-State first baseman Shane Conlon said. “It’s a different guy every day that’s going to tell you what to do. Some of us are best friends, but we’re not scared to say something if we need to. Everyone respects that. Everyone appreicates that.”