By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
Kansas State’s first conference championship in baseball in 80 years helped bring a first to the school. The Wildcats, regular-season champion of the Big 12, will be a host of an NCAA baseball regional for the first time ever.
“I am very proud of this team and what they have accomplished this year,” K-State coach Brad Hill said. “I am extremely happy that we are able to bring a NCAA Regional to the K-State and Manhattan communities. We have worked extremely hard to have the opportunity to reward our great fan base, alumni and university by hosting a regional.”
The community and fan base responded, with available tickets sold out earlier this week. Standing room only tickets are on sale.
“The main thing that’s setting in is watching them put up the bleachers,”Hill told the Topeka Capital-Journal about additional seating being added at Tointon Family Stadium. “That’s the one thing you see that’s a little bit different around here, but for the most part this week has been pretty much business as usual.”
K-State (41-17) is the top seed and will take on No. 4 seed Wichita State at 2 p.m. Friday. The teams met during the regular season with the Wildcats winning both games. No. 2 seed Arkansas will face No. 3 seed Bryant on Friday after the Wildcats-Shockers game.
Hill’s team was picked to finish seventh in a pre-season poll of Big 12 coaches. K-State won seven of its last nine games to surge past Oklahoma and claim first place. Those teams met in last week’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship, with the Sooners winning 7-6 in 11 innings to earn a spot in the title game.
“There’s nothing really bad about (losing to OU),” sophomore designated hitter Mitch Meyer said. “We played hard. If anything, it gives us a little bit of a boost going into next week just wanting to win that much more. The team will respond well.”
Kansas State leads the Big 12 in eight offensive categories and is second in NCAA Division I with a .323 team batting average. The Wildcats have hit a Big 12-leading 28 triples this season, a mark that ranks third in school history and is the most since the 1997 squad had 30.
“We’re a good team,” said senior Ross Kivett, the Big 12 player of the year. “We don’t quit. We’ve gone through adversity and been through a lot of situations this year and come out on top most of the time.”
If they emerge the winner of the Manhattan Regional, K-State will add another first to this season’s list of accomplishments – the first super regional appearance in school history.
“You talk about stepping stones, milestones, and this is a stepping stone we talked about,” Hill said. “It would be nice to knock it all out at once this year - host, move to Super Regionals and then go to Omaha.”
Manhattan Regional hosted by Kansas State
Friday’s schedule (All times Central)
No. 1 Kansas St. (41-17) vs. No. 4 Wichita St. (39-26), 2 p.m., ESPNU/ ESPN3
No. 2 Arkansas (37-20) vs. No. 3 Bryant (44-16-1), 7 p.m., ESPN3
Kansas State update: In the opener against Wichita State, the Wildcats are expected to start freshman right-hander Levi MaVorhis against Wichita State. He has made 21 appearances with five starts and has a 5-0 record with a 3.51 ERA. Jake Matthys, the Big 12 freshman of the year, is K-State’s closer. He is 8-1 with seven saves and a 2.13 ERA in 50.2 innings. Senior second baseman Ross Kivett was a third-team selection on the Louisville Slugger All-America Team by Collegiate Baseball. Junior catcher Blair DeBord is a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award that goes to the top catcher in college baseball. Sophomore shortstop Austin Fisher, who missed the final two games of K-State’s three games in Oklahoma City, has a sore back and is questionable to play Friday. The Game Two starter is expected to be Joe Flattery. He was scratched from his start last Saturday in the Big 12 tournament against Oklahoma with shoulder stiffness, has recovered is expected to start Game 2 on Saturday. Kansas State’s bullpen has been outstanding with a 19-4 record, a 3.43 ERA and nine saves. The Wildcats are 17-9 in games where the opponent scores first.
Arkansas at a glance: The Razorbacks’ strength is pitching. They lead the nation in team ERA (1.87) and allow just under seven hits per game. Right-hander Ryne Stanek is the top starter with a 9-2 record and a 1.40 ERA. Left-hander Randall Fant (5-1, 1.92 ERA) and right-hander Barrett Austin (4-4, 1.94) give Arkansas three formidable starting pitchers. The Hogs are hitting just .260 as a team. Sophomore Brian Anderson is the top hitter with a .338 average and leads the team in doubles (12), triples (5) and home runs (4). Arkansas has a tendency to struggle defensively, as evidenced by a .963 fielding percentage.
Bryant at a glance: The Bulldogs were the Northeast Conference regular-season champion and won the conference tournament to capture the automatic bid and qualify for its first NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs are hitting .289 as a team and have five players hitting above .300, including outfielder Kevin Brown at .368. The senior has 16 doubles, a team-leading six home runs and is one of two hitters with 40 or more RBIs. The Bulldogs’ pitching staff features starters Peter Kelich (7-4, 2.53 ERA) and Kevin McAvoy (7-2, 3.42 ERA). The bullpen is anchored by right-hander Salvatore Lisanti, who holds a 1.27 ERA and 10 saves with a 1-2 record.
Wichita State at a glance: The Shockers will be making their 28th appearance in the NCAA tournament, and their first since 2009. Wichita State won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and automatic NCAA bid to end their post-season drought. The Shockers are hitting .294 and are paced by four hitters at .300 or above – Garrett Bayliff (.389), Tyler Baker (.332), Tanner Deaman (.306) and Casey Gillaspie (.300). Gillaspie leads the Shockers in doubles (15), home runs (10) and RBI (42). Right-hander Cale Elam (7-4, 2.60 ERA) is expected to start the opener.