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DIAMOND 'CATS OPEN BIG 12 WITH LONGHORNS

By Mark Janssen

MANHATTAN, Kan. - If Kansas State can play winning baseball, this Big 12 opening to the 2011 season is going to be a huge plus. If not, "We'll be in for a struggle to get back in it. It's a tough way to open the season," said Wildcat coach Brad Hill.

K-State's baseballers open conference play tonight at six at the University of Texas, with other games at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday in Austin.

Win or lose, the Wildcats will repack their bags for a three-game series at Baylor next weekend, and after that will come home for series against Texas A&M and Oklahoma to complete the first month of the Big 12 season.

"It is what it is, but it's a tough way to open the season," said Hill. "I think the league is back up again, and these are the projected best teams in the league."

In the preseason coaches' poll, Texas was picked second, Baylor fourth, Texas A&M third and Oklahoma first.

The Longhorns (12-5) are ranked No. 5 in the nation, but even they proved human last weekend in losing to Brown. The Wildcats (12-4) limp into conference play after consecutive losses to Long Island over the weekend, but also a get-well come from behind midweek 6-5 win over Nebraska.

"We're a team still trying to find our identity," said Hill. "We haven't had a lot of guys enjoy a lot of success and we have some young guys still trying to earn their stripes."

Through the first one-third of the season, Hill said the K-State pitching "... has been solid for the most part, but we're still looking for that third weekend starter."

K-State will send Kyle Hunter (2-0, 1.52) and Matt Applegate (3-1, 2.70) to the mound on Friday and Saturday, followed by, "I have no idea," Hill said of his Sunday starter. Applegate is coming off 8.1 innings of no-hit baseball last Saturday, plus teams are hitting just .188 against him through 26.2 innings of work this season.

What Hill does know is that Evan Marshall (2-0, 2.20) and James Allen (1-0, 0.00) will close out any close games. Teams are hitting .211 against Marshall and .086 against Allen. What concerns Hill is the fact that he has had to use Marshall seven times and Allen six times to get to their present 12-4 record.

"Those guys have been outstanding, but I've used them more than I've wanted," Hill said. "It is what it is, and you've got to get wins, but it's a long season and we don't want to burn them out."

Hill is somewhat concerned with the team's .968 fielding percentage, saying, "We'd like it to be .975 or .980. The defense has been fair, but with fewer runs being scored, every mistake at the wrong time can lead to a big inning. Each mistake right now is more of an issue because we're not scoring as many runs."

The team batting average of .271 is also alarming with just four regulars hitting over .300 with Nick Martini's .415 leading the way.

Texas is also having trouble at the plate with a .268 team average and just four home runs through 17 games.

"They're using their bunting game even more than usual," Hill said of Texas. "They're going back to speed, defense and pitching. They're playing for a run an inning instead of the big inning."

WILDCATS VS. LONGHORNS: There's reason to say that K-State owns Texas' number. The Wildcats have gone 4-4-1 against the Longhorns in baseball the last three years, 3-0 in football in the last three meetings, and, 3-0 in the last three regular season men's basketball games, and 4-2 in the last six overall games played.

NEXT AT-BAT: After the weekend, K-State will next play next Friday, Saturday, Sunday at Baylor.


We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact either Mark Janssen at mjanssen7@cox.net, or Kansas State Director of Athletic Communications/SID Kenny Lannou at klannou@kstatesports.com. For those who would like to share Sports Extra with a friend or family member, or change your current email address, click here.