KING HELPS LEAD WILDCATS TO BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP
By Mark Janssen
Jason King says this week's pressure will be a tad different than that of last week.
A week ago, Kansas State faced must-win games against Kansas to reach the Big 12 Baseball Championship. The team that won at least two games of the three-game series would advance.
Starting Wednesday in a 7:30 p.m. start against Oklahoma, K-State enters the double-elimination Big 12 Championship in Oklahoma City, Okla., at Redhawks Field, the AAA home of the Houston Astros' minor league team.
"This isn't quite the same because it is a double-elimination tournament," said King. "If you do happen to lose that first game, you can still fight back through and get to the championship game and win the tournament. This is more excited pressure where last week was more serious pressure."
For the 6-foot, 213-pound junior, it's also fun pressure. In fact, extra-fun after sitting out last year due to Tommy John's surgery.
"I tell the young players to really enjoy this event. It's an accomplishment to get here, and you really miss it when you can't play in it," said King. "This is something we've learned to target every year, but you have to earn it. It's a memory that you will have for the rest of your life."
A native of Dublin, Ohio, King hit .274 as a freshman in 2008 and then bumped that to .316 with seven home runs and 61 RBI in 2009 when he helped K-State to its first ever NCAA Regional Tournament.
Returning to the diamond for this spring of 2011, King sputtered early, but finished strong for a .311 average with team highs of 10 home runs, 56 RBI and a .597 slugging percentage.
"I didn't realize that it would take so long to get comfortable at the plate and feel like my old self in terms of confidence and timing," said King. "You can take all the batting practice in the world, but it doesn't prepare you to face the arms you see in the Big 12."
Overall, King said, "I've been happy. I've done what I'm supposed to do which is drive in runs and have good at-bats."
Along with not skipping a beat on the field, the same can be said for King's classroom work where he maintained his 3.96 GPA while majoring in marketing, and made the Academic All-District VII first team and the Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll for the third straight year.
To King, that academic work, at least almost, is as tough as hitting over .300 in the league.
"What most people do not realize is that baseball is probably the hardest sport to play in college because of the travel schedule," said King. "We play so many games that make for a lot of leaving and coming back. You just have to manage your time and use the resources that are available."
King has enjoyed some familiar company in his 2011 travels as his brother, Jared, has played centerfield for the 'Cats and hit .314 with eight homers and 40 RBI.
"Playing with Jared has been so special. It's something not many brothers get a chance to do at this level," said the elder brother. "It really has been cool. I'm so glad he decided to come here."
But, he's also sad that his little brother will not be in the lineup for the rest of the season after suffering a facial injury from a foul ball that found its way into the Wildcat dugout this past weekend.
Friday night, the King brothers went a collective 5-of-11 with three doubles, three runs scored and seven RBI in an 11-10 Wildcat win. With his brother sidelined, Jason finished the series sweep with a 2-of-3 game with two runs scored and two RBI on Sunday.
They are the only set of brothers nationally to homer in the same game this season as they hit a solo- and two-run home run, respectively, in a win over No. 5 Texas A&M on April 3. They are also the only set with multi-homer games this year as Jason hit two against Northern Colorado on March 30 before two solo shots by Jared on April 26 at Cal State Bakersfield.
Yet another friendly face at each game this spring has been his father, Jeff, who has spent the last three months traveling from game to game in a 35-foot Winnebago that in Jason's mind, has all one would want in life - a satellite TV, a couple flat-screen TVs, a leather couch, a bedroom and a full shower.
Jeff played baseball at Ohio State, and later professionally in the New York Yankees minor league system.
BIG 12 PAIRINGS: The Big 12 Tournament has returned to a double-elimination format for the first time since 2005. On K-State's side of the bracket are No. 2 seed Texas A&M, No. 3 seed Oklahoma, No. 6 seed K-State and No. 7 seed Texas Tech.
WEDNESDAY: 9 a.m. - Oklahoma State vs. Baylor; 12:30 p.m. - Texas vs. Missouri; 4 p.m. - Texas A&M vs. Texas Tech, 7:30 p.m. - Oklahoma vs. K-State.
THURSDAY: 9 a.m. - Losers Games 1-2; 12:30 p.m. - Losers Games 3-4; 4 p.m. - Winners Games 1-2; 7:30 p.m. - Winners Games 3-4
Play will continue in the double-elimination tournament on Friday and Saturday with the title game scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday.
FINAL 2011 BIG 12 STANDINGS: Texas 19-8, Texas A&M 19-8, Oklahoma 14-11, Oklahoma State 14-12, Baylor 13-14, K-State 12-14, Texas Tech 12-15, Missouri 11-15, Nebraska 9-17, Kansas 9-18
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