February 14, 2014
By Kelly McHugh
It still stings.
The K-State baseball team still thinks about its 4-3 loss to Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore. It still thinks about that final inning that kept it from going to the College World Series.
The Wildcats are the Big 12 coaches' favorite to repeat as league champions, which means they will be the target for every team it plays this season as the reigning Big 12 Champions enter their 2014 campaign with Omaha on their minds.
"We were two runs away and we want to make sure that doesn't happen again," senior pitcher Jared Moore said. "We now know that Omaha is within our reach and we've basically taken that attitude all fall, all winter and into every day, every pitch that we throw. It always comes up. All fall that was always on our scoreboard: second place in Corvallis, one game away from Omaha. It's always in the back of your head when you're tired and you want a day off. That is our driving factor when pushing to get the best out of each day."
It was a bitter end to a magical season where the K-State baseball program finished with a record number of wins by going 45-19 and won its first conference championship in 80 years. A season of firsts for the program in 2013, the Wildcats hosted and won its first NCAA Regional and played in its first NCAA Super Regional.
While the excitement of last season still lingers in the air in Manhattan, Kan., the past is the past, and today, K-State looks forward to a blank slate as it kicks off its 2014 campaign tonight at 8 p.m. (CT) in San Luis Obispo, Calif., with a first game of a three-game series at Cal Poly.
"I think going to to California after having to play (indoors) and having snow on the ground all the time, it'll actually give us an advantage because it'll feel warm to us while they've been playing in it since the spring started," sophomore pitcher Jake Matthys, the 2013 Big 12 Freshman of the Year, said. "I think it'll give us a big advantage, and hopefully we come out with a lot of wins."
The Wildcats return 19 players from the 2013 roster, including its entire starting infield and the 2013 Big 12 Player of the Year, Ross Kivett.
The second baseman from Cleveland, Ohio, gave up the opportunity to play professional ball for his hometown team, the Cleveland Indians, and is ready to take on 2014 with full force. A preseason All-American, Kivett led the Big 12 last year in hits (94) and runs (57), while he finished second in stolen bases (26) and total bases (126).
"I think that my teammates, this community and the family atmosphere were enough to come back," explained Kivett. "It is your hometown team, so obviously you think about it a little bit, but there are other things in life, such as a degree and the fellowship that I have with these guys. I would be pretty sad sitting on a minor league bus seeing my guys go to Omaha."
Redshirt junior first baseman Shane Conlon also gave up the opportunity to play professional ball as he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals.
"I thought it over a lot. I talked to my parents about the whole decision and kind of just sat on it for a couple weeks," Conlon said about his choice to return to K-State. "Then when I heard Ross was coming back, I thought it was a slam dunk for me to come back as well."
The two look forward to helping lead this year's squad to another successful season and will provide added leadership to the young team.
"Going to Omaha is where our expectations are as a team, and with them being back, it just makes you want to work even harder," Moore said. "It's good now because there aren't just two seniors, there are four. It helps us out with leadership."
Last season, K-State took on then-No. 21 Cal Poly in Tointon Family Stadium and lost the series after three tight games. This time around, the Wildcats hope to even the playing field and start out 2014 on a high note.
K-State is ranked as high as No. 18 (NCBWA) - the best preseason ranking in program history - while the Cats hold a No. 21 ranking in the USA Today Coaches Poll and a No. 22 ranking in Baseball America's preseason poll. Cal Poly enters the 2014 season ranked as high as No. 27 (Collegiate Baseball) and No. 29 (NCBWA).
While this team enters the new season with 2013 Big 12 Championship rings and memories of the program's best ever season, it's hungry for more and ready to do whatever it takes to get K-State's first ever College World Series appearance.
"It doesn't feel like that long ago - moments like that cut pretty deep," senior catcher Blair DeBord said about how the 2013 season ended. "We grew up with a lot of these guys we played with last year, and obviously it's a loss that will hurt for a long time, but on the same note, it's time to turn the page. We talked about that in the locker room the other day: last year is last year, this year is this year. We've got a lot of expectations and we're ready for it."
*K-State Baseball sold a record number of season tickets this season and to show appreciation to its faithful fans, the team went out into the Manhattan community to hand-deliver the tickets. For video and a complete story about the ticket-delivering experience, click here.
Jon Davis and Shane Conlon celebrate Friday against Wichita State in the 2013 NCAA Manhattan Regional at Tointon Family Stadium. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)
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