K-State's Tanner Witt tries to slide past against Oklahoma's Anthony Hermelyn at Tointon Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas on May 17, 2013. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)
March 20, 2014
By Kelly McHugh
Tomorrow afternoon, K-State baseball will set out on a 24-game journey through one of the nation's toughest leagues.
The Wildcats (13-7) will kick off Big 12 Conference play with a three-game series at Oklahoma (16-6) beginning tomorrow evening at 6 p.m., at L. Dale Mitchell Park in Norman, Okla.
While the Wildcats have been competing since mid-February and the team is riding a 12-game winning streak, K-State will start down a brand new road tomorrow with high hopes of earning a consecutive conference title.
"It's what the 5 a.m. mornings are for, so you can be tough in conference play," senior outfielder Ross Kivett said. "We play in such a good conference that this is where your resume is built. It's going to be a battle."
A league where eight of the nine teams have been in the national polls or have received votes, a battle is exactly what this year's Big 12 season is going to be.
With five Big 12 teams currently ranked in the nation's top 30 by Collegiate Baseball (No. 19 Texas, No. 20 Oklahoma State, No. 24 TCU, No. 29 Texas Tech and No. 30 Oklahoma), every game really is anybody's game.
"It's a very deep conference," explained senior pitcher Jared Moore. "A lot of teams are playing well. Everybody from the bottom of the conference, preseason-wise, is playing some pretty good baseball. It's always anyone can beat anyone in this conference, and I expect that to remain the same. Going through three years of it, you get a taste of how hard it is to really win this conference. It should be a good race... I bet it's going to be really tight."
Coming off of a nine-game home stand topped off with a two game sweep over the Air Force Academy, the Wildcats are ready to hit the road for Oklahoma. While nothing beats the comfort of playing at home and playing in front of its faithful fans, K-State is looking forward to the opportunity to travel, compete and bond as a team as it begins a new Big 12 season.
"It's always nice to play at home, especially with the crowds we've had," Moore said, "but it's always fun playing on the road because you get a feel of the different atmospheres and it's a challenge. It's always fun to interact with their crowd and stuff like that. It'll be fun, but it's definitely not anything like playing at home."
Oklahoma is coming off of a 9-5 non-conference win over to No. 24 TCU on Tuesday evening followed by an 11-2 loss to Arkansas Little Rock on Wednesday. Oklahoma is led by new head coach Pete Hughes, who is in his first season with the Sooners, and after spending the past six years at Virginia Tech, he is brand-new to the Big 12 and its competition.
"Oklahoma plays us tough all the time. It's a really tough place to play," Kivett said. "They're always good at home. In this league, everyone's so good that it's hard to go on the road and win. They've got a new staff, a really polished, solid staff with a lot of experience and who demands them to play the game the right way, so it's going to be a tough battle."
Kivett currently leads the Big 12 in career games played (190), at-bats (711), runs (152) and RBI (99), while junior teammate Austin Fisher's .387 batting average and .478 on-base percentage this season are also Big 12 bests. The Wildcats are all over the Big 12 charts this season and plan on keeping it that way.
"It's always exciting. The Big 12 has a lot of really good competition, so it's always fun to match up with some of the nation's best players," said junior outfielder Mitch Meyer. "There are a lot of games and a lot of good teams, but if we go out and play our game and play the way we're supposed to, then I think we'll have a pretty good shot."
Coming off of the program's first Big 12 Championship last season, the Wildcats know no game will come easy and that they, the reigning Big 12 Champions, will start out with a target on their back.
"Every year the team that wins it, you want to beat them," explained Kivett. "Traditionally, we want to beat those teams who always have a target - Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor, teams like that - but, if you've watched the first two weekends, this league is deep. KU and Tech, TCU, they're solid. It's going to be a grind."
It's a time of year that K-State has been both working towards and looking forward to, and the team is ready to see if its hard work has paid off.
Following this weekend's series at Oklahoma, K-State will return home for mid-week games against Omaha on Tuesday, March 25, and Nebraska on Wednesday, March 26. Both games are scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. first pitch.