Cats Rally, Score Nine Unanswered to Stun NIU

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From K-State Athletics

Will Brennan and Zach Kokoska each turned in three-hit games Tuesday as K-State erased an early six-run deficit by scoring nine unanswered runs, capped by a three-run eighth inning, in a 9-6 victory at Tointon Family Stadium.

K-State’s (7-8) three-run eighth was kickstarted by a leadoff double by Kokoska. Following a sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter Rainer Ausmus, back-to-back doubles by Chris Ceballos and Dylan Phillips put the Wildcats in front for the first time in the game.

“It’s a high-character win for our team,” said head coach Pete Hughes. “No one panicked. You believed in your teammates, you picked up your teammates. Look what the bullpen did. Kasey (Ford) wasn’t feeling it today, and the bullpen came in and the first seven scoreless with one hit. The offense believed in itself and chipped away and chipped away.

“It was a really a great team win. You’ve got to be able to play when you’re behind and our guys did a great job of that today.”

Kokoska’s double was his third extra-base hit of the game after the junior outfielder tripled in the second and sixth innings. The Latrobe, Pennsylvania, product finished the day 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored.

“I just think he let the game come to him,” Hughes said of Kokoska. “He didn’t try to do too much, especially with two strikes he did a really good job. He got us going early and his at-bat, with his leadoff double, set us up to get the game-winning run.”

“I just trusted my plan and relaxed in the box and just executed,” Kokoska said. “We knew nothing was going to get by us and we are a good enough hitting team that we just needed to trust our plan. That’s what we did, and we came back and won.”

The Wildcat bullpen held Northern Illinois (4-12) to one hit over the game’s final 7 1/3 innings. Junior Brett Lockwood logged 4 1/3 hitless innings while sophomore Andrew Stratman added two full innings in the win.

Senior Mitch Zubradt tossed a perfect ninth inning for his third save of the season. Zubradt has recorded the final out in six of K-State’s seven victories this season.

Four runs in the second inning followed a two-run first that put NIU ahead by six runs after an inning and a half. The Huskies got eight hits – all singles – off K-State starter Kasey Ford in building a six-run lead, including a two-run single by Kam Smith with the bases loaded in the top of the first.

K-State began to chip away at the Huskies’ lead with two in the second and three in the third. Kokoska’s RBI triple produced the Cats’ first run, bringing in Thomas Hughes. Kokoska later scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Jordan Maxson to put the score at 6-2 after two innings.

The Cats’ three-run third cut the deficit to just one run as K-State began the frame with four consecutive hits. Brennan laced an RBI double that was followed by a two-run single from Cameron Thompson.

Caleb Littlejim tied the game at 6-6 with a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh, his team-leading third homer of the year.

Brennan, Kokoska, Littlejim, Phillips and Thompson each had multi-hit games as K-State had eight extra-base hits in the comeback victory.

The top four hitters in the Wildcat lineup combined to go 11-for-19 (.579) with three doubles, a home run and six runs driven in.

“It gives us the most confidence in the world,” added Kokoska. “I mean, we’re down big in the beginning and nothing was really going our way. We just stuck to our plan and executed and didn’t give up. Going in to tomorrow we are going to have a ton of momentum, so we feel great right now.”

Northern Illinois starter Nick Bonk surrendered five earned runs on six hits over three innings. Reliever Kyle Seebach suffered the loss, giving up an earned run in a third of an inning.

NIU catcher Jake Dunham and first baseman Jordan Larson each went 2-for-4.

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Mitch Fortner

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