MANHATTAN — Moments after the final home contest of his 15-year coaching tenure with Kansas State baseball, a Gatorade-soaked Brad Hill shared a long on-field embrace with his wife, Crystal.
Hill, who will step down at the end of the season, likely couldn’t have scripted a better Tointon Family Stadium finale had he tried. The Wildcats walked off on in-state rival Kansas, 7-6 in 11 innings, on a picturesque Sunday afternoon and on national TV.
After a raucous celebration, a postgame interview with FS1 and a Gatorade shower, Hill detailed the contents of his wife’s message during their emotional moment.
“It’s going to be all right,” recalled Hill, letting out a vigorous laugh. “It’s going to be all right.”
Kyle Barfield clubbed a grand slam and added a run-scoring triple to finish with five RBIs, Hanz Harker had the game-winning hit to deep center field in the 11th inning and the Wildcats (20-30, 5-19 Big 12) concluded what has been a difficult home campaign by winning the final two Sunflower Showdown contests against the Jayhawks (23-27, 6-14). Each outcome in the three-game series was decided by a single run.
Sunday’s finale was as wild an affair as either team has played this season.
Trailing 4-0 entering the bottom of the fourth, the Wildcats mounted a two-out rally that featured a runner reaching base on a strikeout via a wild pitch, a bloop single and a hit by pitch, all ahead of Barfield’s blast, which ricocheted off the left field foul pole. Barfield, who entered the game with two extra-base hits on the season, collected his second of the day in three at bats Sunday with a go-ahead triple in the sixth.
K-State pitching protected the lead until the ninth inning, when Brendt Citta’s one-out double to center field rolled all the way to the wall and scored the tying run. Then, in the 10th, a no-doubt home run off the bat of David Kyriacou to right field led off the inning and gave the Jayhawks the advantage. The Wildcats didn’t falter, though, notching a pair of triples in the bottom half of the 10th — Washburn Rural product Trent McMaster’s two-out three bagger made it past a diving Rudy Karre in center field to again lock the score, this time at 6-all.
Rainer Ausmus was hit by a pitch, John Sorensen walked on four pitches and Will Brennan singled to load the bases before the Wildcats could even record an out in the bottom of the 11th. That’s when Harker delivered to Hill the memorable going-away present.
“We just wanted to go out on a good note and be able to win the series,” Harker said, “especially against KU, who, it’s KU.”
The Jayhawks did clinch a berth in the Big 12 Tournament with a victory in Friday’s opener, but coach Ritch Price lamented missed opportunities in Sunday’s postgame remarks. In his 16th year at KU, Price took time to praise the outgoing Hill for his contribution to the league and the rivalry.
“I have incredible respect for the job Coach Hill has done here,” Price said. “I was here when he first took over, saw him transform this into a top-25 team and get to a Super Regional, build a facility. ... He’s left this in great hands, man. The next guy that takes over, with the new ($10 million) expansion, is walking into a gold mine.
“It’s been an honor to compete against him.”
The Wildcats will finish their season on the road, starting with a 6 p.m. Tuesday contest at Wichita State and concluding with a three-game set at San Francisco.
Before then, though, Hill has this moment to cherish.
“I tried to keep it normal, but it’s 15 years,” Hill said of his routine ahead of Sunday’s finale. “A lot of memories, a lot of great memories. Some ups and some downs with all the people that were involved over 15 years. It was a little different today, to be honest with you. Last two days I was really calm. Today, for some reason, man, I was a little more on fire and that competitive spirit was really coming out.”
Hill indicated the Wildcat squad he saw this weekend embodied the competitive spirit he always tried to instill, and for that he is grateful.
“That’s what I want to remember going out of this program,” Hill said. “That’s how it’s supposed to be played right there and the expectations of how we fight, not quit, and the kids did that today, no question.”
High note aside, a single game couldn’t and wouldn’t change Hill’s outlook on the road ahead. He appeared to have no regrets.
“We have a lot of memories here, a lot of friendships, a lot of relationships that were very, very special to us,” Hill said. “It’s not easy, but it’s time for that next step.”