Top 10 Moments of the 2000s: No. 1

K-State Tops No. 6 Rice to Advance to Regional Finals

Note: This is the final edition of a 10-part series chronicling the top 10 Kansas State Baseball moments of the 2000s, counting down to the Wildcats' 2010 season opener on February 20 against Delaware. The events were voted on by an eight-person panel consisting of: Head Coach Brad Hill; former Head Coach and Director of Development Mike Clark; Associate Athletics Director Casey Scott; Director of Baseball Operations Justin Tadtman; Sports Information Director Kenny Lannou; Baseball SID Ryan Lackey; and the Voices of K-State Baseball, Brian Smoller and Matt Walters.

MANHATTAN, Kan. - It could arguably be the biggest win in Kansas State baseball history. On the biggest stage in the history of the program, the Wildcats advanced further in a season than any other K-State team in history when it defeated No. 6 Rice, 7-6, to advance to the regional final in the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

In a season in which A.J. Morris was brilliant, the junior saved his best game for the postseason. Morris tossed his fifth complete game of the season against the Owls in one of the gutsiest performances in his All-American campaign. The Humble, Texas, native scattered 13 hits and surrendered six runs, of which only four were earned, with two walks.

And although Kansas State held a 7-3 lead following a three-run top of the ninth, Morris and the Wildcats needed every ounce of energy to set down the top-seeded Owls on their home field. The bottom of the ninth started with a triple and a single to plate one run. Following a stolen base and an error to put runners on second and third, Morris struck out Rick Hague for the first out of the inning.

But Morris walked the next batter to load the bases in a three-run game. Freshman All-American Anthony Rendon was next and singled down the right-field line to cut the lead to two.

Chad Mozingo followed and grounded out to first base for the second out, but cut the lead to a single run and moved the tying and winning runs into scoring position. But on his 141st pitch of the game, Morris found a way and struck out Michael Fuda swinging to end the game.

Morris, who did not record a strikeout in the first eight innings, recorded the two biggest strikeouts of his Wildcat career to earn his school-record 14th win, while his final strikeout broke the single-season school record.

"I thought A.J. (Morris) did an outstanding job keeping his composure," said head coach Brad Hill. "Then (in the ninth inning) you start wondering whether I should take him out or not. I guess you don't take a guy out who's been as good as he's been."

Offensively, freshman Nick Martini paced the Wildcats with his 3-for-5 night and drove in four runs. Junior Justin Bloxom went 1-for-3 with two RBI, improving to 6-for-8 with three homers and seven RBI in the regional.

Kansas State's four-run cushion entering the bottom of the ninth came in the previous two innings. K-State took its first lead of the game in the eighth inning at 4-3 on Bloxom's solo homer, then plated three insurance runs in the top of the ninth inning. Martini delivered a two-out, bases-loaded double down the left field line on a 3-2 pitch to give the Wildcats a 7-3 lead.

The Wildcats were forced to battle back from an early deficit as Rice jumped out in front with two runs in the first inning. The Owls began the frame with three straight hits off Morris, including a run-scoring double from Diego Seastrunk. With runners on second and third with no outs, Rendon hit a ground ball to Jason King at third, who threw home to record the first out. K-State had a chance to get out of the inning with no more damage when Mozingo grounded to second base, but the Cats were unable to turn a double play and Seastruck scored to make it 2-0.

Kansas State got a run back in the second when Drew Biery sliced a two-out double down the right-field line for the Cats' first hit of the game. The hot-hitting Jordan Cruz followed and, on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, hit a line drive into right field to score Biery and cut the lead to 2-1.

The Owls immediately responded in their half of the second when Steven Sultzbaugh hit a bloop single that landed just inside the right-field line, went to third on a pair of ground outs to short and scored when Morris uncorked a wild pitch to put Rice ahead 3-1.

K-State battled back again in the third to score another two-out run as Adam Muenster singled with one out and stole second. After Carter Jurica struck out, Martini fought to a 3-2 count before lacing a single into center field to bring home Muenster and cut the deficit to 3-2.

The Wildcats tied the game in the sixth, thanks in part to a throwing error by Rice starting pitcher Ryan Berry. Jurica led off the inning with a single to center field and moved to second on a ground out. With Bloxom at the plate, Berry threw the ball into center field when no one covered the bag on an attempted pickoff of Jurica, allowing Jurica to advance to third. Bloxom then blasted a ball that was caught on the warning track in left field as Jurica scored on the sacrifice fly to knot the contest at 3-3.

The performances by Morris and the Wildcats led Kansas State to the regional final. And although Rice came back to defeat K-State twice and move on to the Super Regional round, the fact that the Wildcats' final win of the decade came in an NCAA Regional shows just how far the program has risen.

Top 10 K-State Baseball Moments of the 2000's
No. 10: Into the Bottom of the 20th We Go... (2/9)
No. 9: Cats Top KU Before Record Crowd (2/10)
No. 8: Hill, Morris Garner National Awards (2/11)
No. 7: K-State Advances to First Big 12 Tournament (2/12)
No. 6: Cats Take Two at No. 2 Texas
No. 5: Clark Retires as Winningest Coach in School History (2/14)
No. 4: Brad Hill Hired as Head Coach (2/15)
No. 3: Cats Advance to First Big 12 Title Game (2/16)
No. 2: The Evolution of Tointon Family Stadium (2/17)
No. 1: K-State Tops No. 6 Rice to Advance to Regional Final (2/18)