Kansas State unable to protect early lead, loses Game 1 of Super Regional at Virginia

Kansas State’s perfect baseball run through the NCAA Tournament came to a frustrating end with a 7-4 loss against Virginia in Game 1 of a Super Regional on Friday night at Disharoon Park in Charlottesville.

The result was a tough one for K-State to swallow because everything was set up for the Wildcats to win and take a commanding lead in this best-of-three series. Instead, they must now beat the Cavaliers on Saturday and Sunday to advance to the College World Series for the first time in program history.

K-State jumped out to a 3-0 lead after four innings behind the fine pitching of ace Owen Boerema, but it couldn’t keep the shutout going as the game went on. Nor could it score enough runs to keep up with Virginia after it found a hitting groove.

The Bat Cats built their lead thanks to a leadoff triple from Brendan Jones in the first inning and double from Kaelen Culpepper in the third inning with two men on. David Bishop blasted a solo home run in the seventh inning to even the score at 4-4.

But K-State only mustered five hits on the night, while Virginia collected nine and really got things going in the late innings.

The Wildcats were red hot at the plate last week. But they weren’t quite as sharp here on Friday.

Virginia made most of its noise on two big hits. The first came on a ground-rule double from Griff O’Ferrall. The blast came with two runners on, and it came immediately after K-State coach Pete Hughes pulled Boerema from the game.

K-State was leading 3-2 before then. Virginia pulled ahead 4-3 after.

Then Virginia went ahead for good when Henry Godbout crushed a three-run homer in the seventh inning to give the No. 12 Cavaliers a 7-4 advantage. That was enough for Virginia pitcher Evan Blanco to get the win.

That felt like a dagger of a hit. The Wildcats never seriously mustered a challenge from then on. Virginia pulled off its 23rd comeback victory of the season.

If there is a silver lining for K-State in this loss it is that it preserved most of its pitching for the final two games of this series.

Hughes turned to Blake Dean, Cole Wisenbaker and James Guyette out of the bullpen. But that was all. Boerema threw 95 pitches. Nobody else finished with more than 22.

Star closer Tyson Neighbors was able to save his arm completely. Ty Ruhl also wasn’t needed.

In other words, Hughes can stick with his usual rotation as K-State tries to get back in the mix for a trip to Omaha.

The Wildcats will try to even the series when they return the field against the Cavaliers at 2 p.m. on Saturday. ESPNU will televise the game.

K-State is sure to fight back. It played one of the toughest schedules in all of college baseball this season and then stormed its way through the Fayetteville Regional with impressive victories against Louisiana Tech, Arkansas and Southeast Missouri State.

Extending that winning streak in the Super Regionals was the goal. It didn’t happen. Now the Wildcats are only thinking about winning their next two games to keep their season alive.