Offense, Bullpen Push Wildcats to Sweep of NIU


From K-State Athletics

K-State matched a season high with 15 base hits, including five for extra bases, as the Wildcats completed a two-game sweep of Northern Illinois with an 8-3 victory Wednesday at Tointon Family Stadium.

Zach Kokoska and Caleb Littlejim each homered while Littlejim, Jordan Maxson and Cameron Thompson each tripled in the game, helping K-State (8-8) bring across eight unanswered runs. Kokoska had a game-high three hits while Littlejim hit his second home run of the season.

“You believe in your offense, you believe in your approach,” said head coach Pete Hughes. “And you believe your pitching staff will hold the opposing team right where they are and throw enough strikes. There was no panic and for the second day in a row, I thought we did a really good job offensively.”

Kokoska, a junior transfer from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, went 6-for-7 (.857) with a double, two triples and a homer while driving in three and scoring five times over the two-game set.

“The past couple games I just tried to stay within myself and put good swings on the ball and hit line drives,” Kokoska said. “It seems to be working out for me right now, so that’s what I am going to continue to do.

“It feels good, obviously. It gives me a lot of confidence going into games this weekend. I’ve just got to stay focused and try not to do too much and stick with my plan. That’s what I’ll do.”

The Wildcat bullpen limited Northern Illinois (3-13) to one hit over the final 3 2/3 innings, led by sophomore Jaxson Passino’s 3 1/3 innings of hitless relief of starter Joey Martin.

“Passino was awesome,” Hughes added. “He settled everything down and just goes to show, you throw strikes and limit your free passes, you give yourself a chance to win.”

Passino earned the victory, as he struck out three and walked one. Martin struck out a career-high seven batters over 4 2/3 innings of work, allowing three earned runs on four hits.

“Joey (Martin) has stuff,” said Hughes of his starting pitcher. “He has stuff to be really good at this level. He pitched good enough for us to win. As soon as he starts throwing that strike one and getting more of those neutral counts, he should have a good career here.”

NIU got across a pair of runs in the top of the second on two hits. Jordan Larson and Josh Mutter each doubled and Alex Rodriguez produced an RBI groundout in the inning off Martin.

Larson’s two-out solo home run in the top of the fourth extended the Huskies’ lead to 3-0. It was Larson’s first homer of the season and snapped a streak of six straight batters retired by Martin – five of which by strikeout.

K-State got one run back in the bottom of the fourth via an RBI single by Chris Ceballos. Ceballos’ team-leading 13th run batted in followed Kokoska reaching on a hit by pitch and a Maxson single. The Cats, however, would leave the bases loaded for the second consecutive inning.

Three in the fifth gave K-State its first lead of the game. Maxson roped a game-tying triple that scored Kokoska, who earlier produced an RBI single in the inning. Maxson would come home for the go-ahead run on a two-out error by NIU shortstop Dylan Lonteen.

The Cats’ four-run seventh, which featured home runs by Kokoska and Littlejim, punctuated the scoring. In total, K-State recorded four hits in the inning.

Five Wildcats turned in multiple hits in Ceballos, Littlejim, Kokoska, Maxson and Thompson. Nine different K-State hitters registered a hit in the ballgame.

Littlejim also threw a scoreless ninth inning in relief.

K-State hit .500 (8-for-16) with two outs while producing eight base hits (8-for-21) with runners on base.

Larson owned the only two-hit game for the Huskies, going 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored. Four of NIU’s five hits went for extra bases (three doubles and a home run).


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Mitch Fortner

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