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May 21—If this was Jordan Wicks' final appearance at Tointon Family Stadium, he couldn't have written a better ending. Wicks, Kansas State's star pitcher and a likely first-round pick in this year's MLB draft, went a season-long 7 2/3 innings Thursday, helping the team upend No. 5 TCU, 4-2, in the opening game of the series.
Wicks allowed just two runs and five hits as the Wildcats (30-20, 9-13 Big 12) picked up their third victory over a top-five foe this season. It marks the first time since 2009 K-State has beaten two different top-five opponents in the same season; it topped then-No. 3 Texas Tech in back-to-back contests in Manhattan on April 2 and 3.
Wicks said he felt his pitches never have been better than they were Thursday.
"I felt like I could throw all four pitches for a strike tonight, which I think was the difference — just being more consistent in the zone with the slider and more consistent in the zone with the curve ball," he said. "Having the changeup tonight was big, too."
Wicks gave up an RBI single to Gray Rodgers in the second inning, then punched out the next seven batters he faced. After Rodgers recorded another RBI single in the fifth, Wicks found his form again, retiring nine consecutive Horned Frogs.
"There is no moment big enough for that kid," said K-State head coach Pete Hughes, referring to Wicks. "(He was) really dominant with four different pitches. He didn't want to come out of the game, but that's just how he is. He loves pitching in front of this crowd and for this university."
Wicks had seven strikeouts overall, including a string of four straight that encompassed the final out of the second inning and sitting down the side in the third. Thursday's performance upped his strikeout total this year to 109 (extending his single-season school record) and his all-time total to 221 — putting him just two behind the man at the top of the list, Andy Replogle, who had 223 strikeouts as a Wildcat from 1973 to 1975.
"I think he might have sealed his fate come July. That's how good he was," Hughes said with a laugh, alluding to the date of the draft.
While Wicks was putting forth his usual stellar effort on the mound, Terrence Spurlin and Cameron Thompson handled things at the plate, with both collecting two hits in the victory, which gave the Wildcats a 30-win campaign for the first time since 2013 — a year in which they won the Big 12 regular-season title.
Thompson and Spurlin belted back-to-back home runs — the third time this season the Wildcats have accomplished that feat — in the fourth, turning a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 lead.
K-State never looked back after that. Despite its No. 5 ranking, Thursday was the fourth loss in five games for TCU; included in that stretch was a pair of non-conference defeats to Louisiana-Monroe. After Wicks walked off the mound, Eric Torres came on for the final 1 1/3 innings. The Horned Frogs (35-15, 16-6) barely touched him.
Torres faced five batters. He struck out four. The lone Horned Frog to depart the batter's box without striking out was Gene Wood, who singled in the top of the ninth. Torres ran his scoreless streak to 17 innings during the second save of his K-State career. He hasn't allowed a run in his last nine relief appearances. He has 24 strikeouts and two walks in that span.
Offensively, the Wildcats did the majority of their damage with two outs, with three of their four runs occurring in that scenario. The Horned Frogs, meanwhile, struggled in those situations Thursday, hitting just .182 (2-for-11) with two outs.
After taking Game 1 win from TCU, Hughes hopes the momentum continues into the final two contests of the regular-season capping series.
"Just happy to play with energy," he said, "and play efficiently in front of our home crowd."