Wildcats defeat Baylor to keep season alive

Local Sports

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – K-State scored nine unanswered runs, including a seven-run seventh, while Carson Seymour carded six innings of relief as the Wildcats defeated Baylor 9-4 in an elimination game at the 2021 Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship Thursday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

Caleb Littlejim’s three-run home run capped the Wildcats’ seven-run inning in which K-State (32-22) brought 10 hitters to the plate. Prior to Littlejim’s homer, the Cats tallied four RBI singles, including three straight from Dylan PhillipsTerrence Spurlin and Zach Kokoska.

“What a special performance from our guys, to play from three behind early and into the middle of that game,” assistant coach Austin Wates said. “All we talked pregame was that we want to get Coach Hughes back in that third base coaches’ box. Those guys were fighting like crazy every single at-bat.

“What a great win for our program.”

Seymour threw the game’s final six innings after taking over for starter Connor McCullough to begin the fourth. The right-hander retired Baylor (31-20) in order in four of the final five innings after allowing two runs in the fourth, which gave the Bears a 3-0 advantage. In total, Seymour sat down 16 of the final 18 he faced.

“What Carson did today was really cool,” said Wates. “For a guy that’s battled a little bit throughout the season and to come up in a big spot. Really all we were asking him to do was keep the game close and he did more than that, he gave us a chance to win. Our offense answered in the middle of the game.

“He was ready to do whatever we needed him to do. That’s a tough mindset to be in, it just goes to show how much mental strength the kid has to do whatever we need him to do at any given time. Hats off to him for coming in and doing what he did for the team and program today.”

Seymour, who made 10 weekend starts during the regular season, turned in his longest outing since March 27 in a start at Oklahoma State. This was Seymour’s longest outing as a reliever and matched his season long appearance in any game.

“Basically, I’ve just switched up the mindset that I have to go six innings every single time,” said Seymour. “My bullpens have been just throw it as hard as you can and take that into the game and throw is hard as you can again. Just attack the zone with strikes.”

Seymour’s efforts gave K-State’s offense a chance to crawl out of a three-run deficit. With two outs in the sixth, Kokoska and Nick Goodwin launched back-to-back home runs off BU starter Hayden Kettler to trim the deficit to one run.

“When Kokoska hit that home run it really sparked a little bit of life in our dugout. We got some momentum and energy back in there and, all of a sudden, we come alive,” Wates added. “You feel that momentum building once those two home runs get hit.”

Dylan Caplinger produced the first of six hits in the seventh inning with a one-out double. Cameron Thompson followed with an RBI single to tie the game at 3 and later scored the go-ahead run when Dylan Phillips connected on an opposite-field single off Baylor reliever Ryan Leckich.

Leckich, who was the second of three Baylor pitchers used in the inning, had surrendered just five hits in 44 at-bats to left-handed hitters entering Thursday. Spurlin and Kokoska both singled against Leckich to swell the Wildcats’ lead to 6-3.

Littlejim homered off Luke Boyd with two outs, bringing around Spurlin and Kokoska, to turn in K-State’s highest-scoring inning ever in a conference tournament (Big Eight or Big 12). The home run was the third of the season and 10th in the career of Littlejim, a fifth-year senior from Little Axe, Oklahoma.

“Cam Thompson gets a big hit, Dylan Caplinger leads off with that double. All those things played a role and then the dagger was to give up that three-run home run.,” said Wates. “What a special, special spot for that kid, Caleb Littlejim, to come through for us there.”

All nine players in Wildcats’ starting lineup registered a hit, including two each from Goodwin, Kokoska and Spurlin. Kokoska drove in two and Goodwin’s home run was his 10th of the season, tying Phillips’ K-State freshman record set in 2019.

Kokoska tied Phillips, who homered in Wednesday’s game, for the team lead with 15 home runs. It marks the second time in program history two K-State teammates have produced 15 or more homers in a season (1997). Both Kokoska and Phillips are one shy of tying the team’s single-season home run mark.

“We have a very, very dangerous offense top to bottom.,” Wates added. “All it takes is a couple bloops, a couple guys on base and, all of a sudden, the home run becomes a factor very quickly. That’s the thing about the home run, it never sleeps and when we have that going for us, we can be really, really tough.”

With three homers, K-State increased its single-season record home run total to 87. The Wildcats improve to 19-1 this year when hitting multiple home runs.

McCullough battled through three innings in his start, stranding two runners in each of the first two frames and five total runners in his outing. He wiggled out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first courtesy of a 4-6-3 double play.

McCullough did walk four and allow three hits, including a leadoff homer in the third inning to Jared McKenzie, before giving way to Seymour.

McKenzie drove in two more runs in the fourth, as his two-run single was the third straight two-out hit off Seymour. McKenzie and Jack Pineda, the top two in the Baylor lineup, went 2-for-5 to lead the Bears.

Jimmy Winston took the loss after he gave up three earned runs in two-thirds of an inning. Winston finished the sixth in relief of Kettler and began the seventh inning.

K-State hit .455 (5-for-11) with runners in scoring positing and recorded five two-out RBI.

The Wildcats and Bears split four meetings this season, with the win snapping K-State’s seven-game losing streak at the Big 12 Championship.

Seventh-seeded K-State will take on either No. 2 seed TCU or No. 3 seed Texas Tech on Friday at 3:15 p.m. The elimination game will be broadcast on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ and the ESPN app. Radio coverage can be heard on the K-State Sports Radio Network with live, free audio streaming at K-StateSports.com/watch.

INSIDE THE BOX SCORE

  • K-State scored six runs on eight hits with one error and three left on base. 
  • Baylor scored seven runs on 12 hits with one error and nine left on base.
  • K-State scored four runs in the first and led 6-3 in the sixth.
  • Kokoska and Goodwin hit back-to-back home runs in the sixth, the third time the Cats have gone back-to-back this season.
  • Kokoska matched Phillips for the team lead with 15 homers.
  • Goodwin equaled Phillips’ freshman home run record of 10, set in 2019.
  • Seymour threw six innings in relief, earning the win with six strikeouts and no walks.
  • Seymour scattered five hits and allowed three earned runs.
  • The seven-run seventh marked the Cats’ highest-scoring inning in tournament history (Big Eight or Big 12).
  • All nine Wildcats in the starting lineup recorded a base hit.
  • Goodwin, Kokoska and Spurlin each tallied two hits.
  • K-State is 19-1 this season when hitting multiple home runs.
  • K-State was 5-for-11 with runners in scoring position and recorded five two-out RBI.
  • Baylor was held to 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

NOTES

  • Thompson made his 238th consecutive start, extending his own Wildcat record.
  • K-State has 87 homers on the year to lead the Big 12 (single-season program record).
  • Kokoska and Phillips are the second K-State teammates to have 15 or more home runs in a season (Scott Poepard and Heath Schesser 1997)
  • Phillips has a team-high 55 RBI this season.
  • The K-State pitching staff has a combined 506 strikeouts, which is the most ever in a single season in program history.
  • Baylor leads the all-time series 30-52.
  • It marked the first time since 2013 that the Bears and Wildcats met at the Big 12 Championship.
  • K-State is 5-3 vs. Baylor in the postseason tournament.
  • The victory marked the Wildcats’ first at the Big 12 Championship since 2015, snapping a seven-game skid.

(Courtesy: K-State Athletics)

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