The Kansas State Wildcats' (36-25) season came to an end Saturday afternoon in Fullerton, California at the hands of the University of Illinois. The Cats lost to the Fightin' Illini 5-3 in an elimination game of the Cal State Fullerton regional.
Illinois starting pitcher John Anderson was solid on the day going 8 innings, giving up just one earned run on seven hits while striking out three. Anderson surrendered a solo home run to MIke Kindel in the bottom of the 2nd inning that gave the Wildcats the early 1-0 lead. But Illinois immediately responded with two runs in the top of the 3rd off Kansas State starter, Matt Applegate.
Davis Hendrickson started off the top of the 3rd inning for Illinois by tripling to left-center before Josh Parr followed up with an RBI double. A sacrifice bunt followed by a sacrifice fly gave the Illini the 2-1 lead headed to the bottom of the 3rd inning. Parr and Hendrickson led Illinois offensively by going a combined 4-7 with four RBI's and two runs scored from the eight and nine spots in the order.
Kansas State was given a chance in this game by relievers Gerardo Esquivel and Evan Marshall. Esquivel came in for Applegate in the 4th inning and threw 2.1 scoreless innings, giving up just three hits and striking out two. Marshall threw the final three innings for K-State and was lights-out as he struck out five batters and kept the Cats within striking distance.
There just wasn't enough offense for K-State to overcome the three runs scored by Illinois in the 4th inning. A one-out walk issued by Applegate was followed by a single, and then a hit-batter that loaded the bases with one-out for Hendrickson. An 0-2 pitch that caught a little too much of the plate allowed Hendrickson to get the sacrifice fly that brought the score to 3-1 at that point.
The next play ended up being the turning point in the game and the last batter for Applegate. With runners at first and second and two-outs, Josh Parr hit a pop-fly down the left-field line that was just out of the reach of the diving Kent Urban for Kansas State, the ball got past Urban and the two-RBI triple gave the Illini a 5-1 lead.
The Cats trailing 5-3 in the 9th got a leadoff single from Wade Hinkle that brought the tying run to the plate in Mike Kindel, who had already homered for the Cats earlier in the game, but Illinois reliever Chris Pack got Kindel to ground into the double-play and killed any momentum.
Kansas State's 36 wins this season is good for third-best in school history. Head Coach Brad Hill was pleased with the teams performance over the last few weeks, and this season. via kstatesports.com
"We had our backs against the wall for pretty much the last three weeks and competed really hard during that time. We went from not being in the Big 12 Tournament to making it to a regional. We won a lot of games in pressure situations, so I give the kids a lot of credit. Throughout the year, there were a lot of ups and downs. This team battled through a lot of adversity this season."
Kansas State's first appearance in the NCAA tournament in school history was in 2009, they have since made it every year for three consecutive years under coach Hill. The Cats needed just five consecutive wins when they arrived in Fullerton in order to earn a spot in Omaha at the College World Series. The goal for every team around the country has been in reach for the Cats for the last three years, hopefully one of these years they can get over that hump.