OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Being the top seed in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship has not been a walk in the ballpark. Eight of the last 11 top seeds have lost their opener and only four top seeds have hoisted the trophy.
Kansas State, which defied the preseason prediction of mediocrity, continued to go against the flow. The Wildcats manufactured four runs and got a strong effort from their bullpen to defeat No. 8 seed Texas Tech, 4-3.
The Red Raiders (25-29) will face No. 4 seed Oklahoma at 9 a.m. Friday. Kansas State (40-16) will take on No. 5 seed Baylor at 12:30 p.m. Friday.
The Wildcats performed as one might expect of the regular-season champions.
Big 12 player of the year Ross Kivett started the game with an outstanding diving stop of a hard grounder. First baseman Shane Colton also turned in a dandy stop in the third inning. Catcher Blake DeBord threw out Blake Bell, the Conference's top base stealer, and pitcher Blake McFadden picked off a runner at second.
At the plate, Kansas State manufactured its runs. Jared King walked and stole second and scored on two grounders in the second. In the decisive fourth inning, the Wildcats scored three runs – two on sacrifice flies and one on a wild pitch.
"We had that one big inning that basically won us the ballgame," said Conlon, who had two of Kansas State's six hits. "Our pitching staff threw great today. They kept us in the game and that was why we won today."
K-State coach Brad Hill also pushed the right buttons. In the three-run fourth, Hill had Kyle Speer pinch hit for starting shortstop Austin Fisher. Speer's double into the right field corner was the big hit of the inning.
"The only reason that happened was because we have some issues with Fisher. He is just not healthy and couldn't go today," Hill said. We decided to let Kyle swing the bat instead and he put a good swing on it. It all worked out in the end, but that wasn't the game plan for today."
K-State starter Blake McFadden worked one out into the sixth inning, then Hill went to his bullpen. Nate Williams and Jake Matthys, the Big 12 freshman of the year, worked 3.2 innings of one-hit relief. Matthys earned his seventh save of the year.
Texas Tech jumped to a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning on first baseman's Eric Gutierrez's two-run homer to left field. He has homered in four consecutive games, the first Red Raider in a dozen years to have such a streak.
The Red Raiders failed to accomplish the shut-down inning as K-State staged its three-run rally to regain the lead.
"The other team played better than our team," Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock said. "We just need to go out there and play good baseball against Oklahoma), no matter who we're playing, and give ourselves a chance to win."