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(Courtesy: K-State Athletics)
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas State freshman pitchers Levi MaVorhis and Jake Matthys combined for 8.1 solid innings, while first baseman Shane Conlon tallied three hits as the Wildcats hung on to win the series opener at Kansas, 4-3, Friday evening at Hoglund Ballpark.
With the win, K-State improved to 35-15 on the year and 12-7 in Big 12 play. Entering the weekend in a three-way tie for first place in the Big 12 with Oklahoma and West Virginia, K-State now tops the conference itself as the Sooners lost to Oklahoma and the Mountaineers were rained out.
The Jayhawks fell to 31-19 overall and 12-10 in league action as they suffered only their fourth home loss in 21 games this season.
MaVorhis (5-0) allowed just one run on six hits with a walk and a strikeout in a career-long tying 5.1 innings. He continually worked out of danger as he forced KU to leave the bases loaded in the second inning, strand a one-out double on in the third and get out of a first-and-third situation in the fourth with an inning-ending double play.
Matthys, who picked up his fifth save of the year, was equally impressive in his three innings in which he allowed a run and struck out two batters. His save didn’t come easy, however, as he surrendered a ninth-inning leadoff triple to Connor McKay, one that landed on the right-field foul line and completed the first cycle by a Kansas hitter since 2006.
Matthys forced a ground out, which scored the run, and struck out Tucker Tharp for the second out. Jason Protacio was next and reached on an infield single to put the tying run on base. Kevin Kuntz, who had three hits in the game, was next and hit a hot shot off of Matthys’ glove, but the freshman was able to pick up the ball and throw to first base in plenty of time to end the game.
“It was a gutty effort by our two freshman pitchers again,” head coach Brad Hill said. “Never one of them really had good stuff, but they just competed. We made some plays behind them as well. It was a total team effort.”
In MaVorhis’ three career starts, he has now worked at least five innings and surrendered two or less runs in each contest. Matthys, who tied the K-State freshman record for wins (7) last Friday at Texas, is now one save away from tying the school’s freshman record in that department.
The pitching by MaVorhis and Matthys was necessary as the Wildcats stranded 13 runners, their highest in Big 12 play this season and one shy of their overall season high. Six of the 13 came in the final two innings when Kansas State left the bases loaded in both frames to keep KU in the contest.
Conlon and Mitch Meyer were the lone Wildcats to record multi-hit games. Meyer went 2-for-5 and hit his fourth homer of the year, a towering shot over the right-field wall on the first pitch of the sixth inning. Meyer scored two runs, including one on a Kyle Speer sacrifice fly in the second inning to open the game’s scoring.
“We couldn’t execute some things,” Hill said. “Offensively, it wasn’t a great night, but we did just enough to win.”
Meyer’s homer answered a KU run in the fifth inning when Kuntz hit a controversial one-out double down the right-field line. The Jayhawks also scored a run in the seventh inning when McKay hit a two-out solo homer.
Although the homer cut the K-State lead to two, Wildcat backup catcher Alex Bee made perhaps one of the biggest plays of the night right before the solo shot. Bee, who came into the game after Blair DeBord was ejected for arguing a fair call on Kuntz’s double, threw out Dakota Smith on an attempted steal as KU could have gotten to within one on the homer.
Austin Fisher recorded a leadoff double in the fourth inning to extend his hitting streak to a career-long 15 games. Kansas State plated two runs in the fifth on a Tanner Witt single and a Fisher sacrifice fly.
Kansas starting pitcher Thomas Taylor (5-2) was saddled with the loss after allowing four runs (three earned) on seven hits with three walks and three strikeouts in 5.1 innings. KU relief pitchers Robert Kahana and Junior Mustain combined for 3.2 scoreless innings.