K-State staves off elimination at Big 12 baseball tournament, beats Baylor 9-4

·6 min read

May 27—Self-belief never has been in short supply for Carson Seymour. Just in case he ever senses any scarcity, however, Seymour doesn't need to look far. Every day, without fail, he writes. He calls it his "confidence journal."

The concept isn't complicated.

"I just write down five things I'm good at, so I can always keep my head on my shoulders," said Seymour, a sophomore pitcher for Kansas State. "Then I go out there and compete."

Did he ever Thursday.

Called upon to slow down Baylor's bats — and keep K-State's season alive at least one more day — Seymour threw six innings of long relief out of the bullpen in a winner-take-all game at the Big 12 tournament.

While his final numbers don't jump off the page — three runs (all earned) on five hits to go along with six strikeouts — Seymour's efforts kept the Bears at bay, and helped the Wildcats turn a 3-0 deficit into a 9-4 victory at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.

K-State assistant coach Austin Wates couldn't say enough about Seymour's performance —the longest outing of his career as a reliever.

"What Carson did today was really cool," Wates said. "For a guy who's battled a little bit throughout the season, to come up in a big spot — and really all we were asking him to do was keep the game close, and he did more than that: He gave us a chance to win."

Seymour replaced starting pitcher Connor McCullough, who tossed three innings and gave up a run on three hits. But his control wasn't there otherwise, issuing four walks without recording a strikeout.

Though Seymour allowed two runs — via a two-RBI single from Baylor center fielder Jared McKenzie — in his first inning of work, the Bears barely touched him the rest of the way. In his final five innings, Seymour permitted just one run and three hits.

His stellar outing gave the Wildcats (32-22) time to find their groove at the plate.

Through the contest's first five frames, K-State only had three hits. Then in the sixth inning, Zach Kokoska and Nick Goodwin got the Wildcats on the board with back-to-back home runs.

K-State didn't slow down in the seventh; it was even better. The Wildcats batted around and scored seven runs on six hits to move ahead 9-3. The highlight of the seven-run inning came with two outs, when Caleb Littlejim launched a bases-clearing three-run homer.

"That nail in the coffin was to give up that three-run home run," Wates said. "What a special, special spot for that kid, Caleb Littlejim, to come through for us right there. It takes the pressure off of Carson. He can just go in there and throw strikes and let our defense work. I think that definitely did it."

The Bears (31-20) pushed one final run across the plate in the bottom of the seventh on an RBI triple from catcher Andy Thomas.

It wasn't enough to save the Bears on this day, though.

Heck, Seymour was so comfortable heading into the bottom of the ninth he tipped off a teammate to a lofty goal that had nothing to do with the game's result.

"I told Cole Johnson I was going to try to hit 100 mph in that last inning. I didn't," Seymour said with a smirk, "but I was trying to."

Since Seymour's shift from the starting rotation to the bullpen, that's been his all-encompassing focus: throwing hard, each and every pitch, no matter the count.

"Just attack the zone with strikes," he said. "Basically, just try to go out there and pound the zone as hard as I can every single time."

The long relief appearance wasn't entirely unexpected. Seymour approached pitching coordinator Cord "Buck" Taylor prior to the game; he wanted to know the plan. Taylor replied, "All hands on deck. Everyone get ready to go."

That's all Seymour needed to hear.

"With that in mind I was like, 'All right, let's go. First inning, second inning, it doesn't matter. I'm just going to go out there and chuck it,'" he said.

Ineloquent as that sounds, Wates saw a masterpiece.

"Carson would have been ready to start the game tomorrow if that's what he was asked to do. That's a tough mindset to be in," Wates said. "It just goes to show how much mental strength the kid has: to be able to do whatever we need him to do at any given time. Again, hat's off to him for coming in and doing what he did for our team and program today."

Not that Seymour did it by himself.

The Wildcats' explosive offense showed what it's capable of, too.

Every hitter in the starter lineup had at least one base knock. Goodwin's homer was his 10th of the year, tying Kokoska's single-season program record for a freshman. Kokoska's homer was his 15th in 2021, which put him alongside Dylan Phillips for the most on the team — and gave the Wildcats two players with 15 or more homers in the same season for the first time since 1997. Both now are within one of K-State's single-season mark. All the balls leaving the yard continued to pad the Wildcats' team record for a single campaign; after three more Wednesday, their total stands at 87, 12 clear of the prior record, set in 1997.

More pertinent to this season, however: The trio of homers Thursday improved K-State's record to 19-1 this year in games in which they belt multiple home runs.

"We have a very, very dangerous offense top to bottom," Wates said. "All it takes is a couple bloops and a couple guys on base, and all of a sudden, the home run becomes a factor pretty quickly. That's the thing about the home run: it never sleeps. So when we have that going for us, we're really, really tough offensively."

Of course, this didn't come against just any opponent. This is the same Baylor squad that pummeled K-State into submission — in seven innings! — in a 23-3 obliteration in the last matchup, which came less than three weeks ago.

Aside from the mercy rule being employed in that contest, the Bears also put the Wildcats into the record books in the way every team wants to avoid: Baylor put 17 runs on the board in the fifth frame, a single-inning Big 12 mark.

Twice during his postgame press conference, Wates downplayed that avenging that embarrassing defeat made Thursday's triumph any sweeter.

Cue the coaches' cliches.

The Wildcats, he said, only were focused on the next pitch, executing the next play, having a better at-bat the next time they step to the plate. So on and so forth. Besides, Wates said they had "flushed that (loss) a long time ago."

Seymour didn't take the same tack.

Winning "always feels good," he noted. But bouncing the Bears from the league tournament — and possibly hindering Baylor's hopes of making the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid — while extending their own run was too sweet for him to ignore.

He served up some cold revenge Thursday, after all.

"It feels really good knocking them out of the tournament," Seymour said, "and giving us a better shot at a regional."