MANHATTAN, Kan. — One of the nation’s top pitchers on the hill with a four-run lead looked like a winning position for Oklahoma.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
But this is a special season for Kansas State — and now, for the first time in eight decades, it’s a conference championship season.
K-State defeated the Sooners 6-5 and clinched the program’s first Big 12 championship and the first league title of any kind since sharing the Big Six in 1933.
It also completes something of a triple crown with league titles in football, men’s basketball and baseball, a feat accomplished one other time in Big 12 history — by Texas in 2005-06.
Coach Brad Hill, in his 10th season after arriving from Central Missouri, received an ice-water shower in left field during the celebration.
“Cat town is title town,” K-State athletic director John Currie said as he presented the Big 12 trophy.
Kansas State trailed 4-0, as Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray made it look easy through five innings. But the Wildcats, 38-15 overall and 15-7 in Big 12 play, never doubted themselves. That hasn’t been part of the game plan all season.
“I never thought we were going to lose,” said pitcher Jake Matthys, who pitched 11/3 innings in relief and got the victory. “I think we can beat anybody.”
Even a Sooners team led by Gray, projected by some as the top prospect in this year’s draft — and once a target of the Royals, who picked him in the 13th round of the 2010 draft out of high school.
Kansas State scored in each of the final four innings. The game-winner came in the ninth when Tanner Witt, who opened the inning with a walk, scored from third when Oklahoma catcher Anthony Hermelyn couldn’t grasp Jacob Evans’ 2-1 pitch to Jon Davis.
The ball skidded to the backstop, and Witt slid into home without a play. He was immediately mobbed by teammates as a crowd of 3,589 at Tointon Family Stadium cheered wildly.
“What was I thinking?” Hill asked. “ ‘Run, Tanner, run. And don’t let the ball bounce right back to the catcher.’ ”
Kansas State looked like a winner an inning earlier. The Wildcats took a 5-4 lead in the eighth when pinch hitter Lance Miles stroked a single that scored Davis, who had tripled to lead off the inning.
But Oklahoma shortstop Jack Mayfield tied it in the ninth with a solo home run.
Kansas State, which entered the game with the nation’s fourth-best team batting average at .321, finally got to Gray in the sixth. Singles by Shane Conlon, Jared King and Olathe Northwest product Austin Fisher produced a run and cut the Sooners’ lead to 4-1.
Davis moved two runners into scoring position with a fielder’s-choice chopper to second, and sophomore designated hitter Mitch Meyer, who won two state championships at Blue Valley High, brought them home with a single to right.
K-State tied it in the seventh and chased Gray in the process.
RJ Santigate opened the inning with a single, moved to second on Ross Kivett’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Witt’s bouncer up the middle.
The Wildcats had taken Oklahoma’s best shot and were now returning the blows.
They seized momentum and were on their way to a fantastic finish.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Hill said.
“We were down, but we don’t ever feel like we’re down. We fight and compete and find a way to wins games.”
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.