FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Cougars haven’t had this kind of postseason start in a generation.
Cody Bartlett clubbed an unlikely two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning, and Washington State rallied to defeat Kansas State 8-6 in the first round of the NCAA baseball Fayetteville Regional at Baum Stadium. It’s the first time the Cougars (35-20) have won an opening-round game in the NCAA tournament since 1990.
Bartlett’s home run came off Wildcats closer James Allen (5-1), who entered the game not having given up a home run this season (441/3 innings). Meanwhile, Bartlett had hit only one home run in his last 19 games.
“I was looking for the pitch I got (a fastball), and got my hands through,” said Bartlett, who went 3 for 5 and scored three runs. “…It wasn’t what I was going for. You’re always taught that home runs are accidental line drives that you get under and they go out.”
The home run, Bartlett’s sixth of the season, made a winner out of reliever Connor Lambert (5-1), who struck out the only batter he faced to end the eighth inning. Adam Conley pitched a shutout ninth for his 12th save of the season, tying a school record.
With the win, second-seeded WSU advanced to take on top-seeded Arkansas at 5:05 p.m. PDT today. The Razorbacks (41-18) defeated WSU in the first round of last year’s Norman Regional.
“We’ve had kind of a weird season, but the last 20 ballgames, we’ve been led from within,” said WSU coach Donnie Marbut, whose team earned its 19th come-from-behind win of the season. “My wife says, ‘You put them behind, and (the veteran players) put us over the top.’ ”
The third-seeded Wildcats (36-21) looked to be in control after scoring three runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh, going ahead 6-3. The Cougars tied it up in the bottom of the seventh, though, getting within a run on a two-RBI double from Matt Fanelli and then evening things on a two-out triple by Garry Kuykendall.
Kansas State starter Kyle Hunter set down the first eight batters he faced. The Wildcats jumped ahead 1-0 in the fourth, but the Cougars’ bats woke up in the bottom of the inning.
Bartlett scored on a Michael Weber single to tie it at 1, and WSU added two more in the fifth. Kyle Johnson singled in Matt Argyropoulos, and two batters later Johnson scored on a Derek Jones double to right, making it 3-1.
“We might make our coaches pull their hair out at some points,” Fanelli said. “The first three innings weren’t very good offensively. We just have been in the situation coming from behind so many times that we never lose faith we’re going to get it done.”