K-State's R.J. Santigate bats against Kansas at Hoglund Ballpark in Lawrence, Kansas on May 12, 2013. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)
April 4, 2014
By Kelly McHugh
K-State baseball (17-11, 1-2 Big 12) returns home at 6:30 p.m. this evening for the first of a three game series against the Kansas Jayhawks in the annual Sunflower Showdown.
"We've been looking forward to playing KU," said junior Shane Conlon. "We've been looking forward to playing them all year. They're a great team this year and they always play us hard, so it's going to be a battle."
A battle is exactly what fans can expect as, despite a preseason ranking of last in the Big 12, the Jayhawks opened the season winning their first nine games and now hold an impressive 19-10 record (3-3 Big 12). Kansas heads to Manhattan off back-to-back wins over both Oklahoma and Wichita State and is led by the fourth-best pitching staff in the Big 12.
Though last year K-State traveled east to Lawrence, Kan., and swept KU on its home field, the Wildcats know this year that they will have their hands full.
"I definitely think they're a lot better team than (preseason ranked) last place, and they've shown that so far this year," said senior left-handed pitcher Jared Moore. "They have a very good pitching staff. They have a lot of veteran guys and they're having a lot of success this year, but when it comes down to it, I have a lot of trust in our hitters and I expect them to be up to the challenge."
While Kansas' pitching staff has been turning heads this season, so has K-State's offense. The Wildcats lead the Big 12 as the only team batting over .300 with a .306 overall batting average and have three players - senior R.J. Santigate, junior Austin Fisher and senior Ross Kivett - all ranked among the Big 12's top 10 best hitters.
"We just need to go play and prepare the right way," head coach Brad Hill said. "I think it'd be great if our starting pitching would go deep, but you prepare for the worst a lot of times. You expect the best but prepare for the worst, and that's the way you have to be in these series. You don't know which way it's going to go or who an unsung hero might be - there's always someone who could step up. I just think it's going to be a great weekend of baseball and very competitive."
Over the past decade, K-State leads the series with Kansas, 21-12, including an 11-5 mark at home. The Wildcats have won seven-straight series openers, and the last time the Jayhawks visited Manhattan was on May 13, 2012, where K-State came out on top with a 9-3 win.
K-State has remained strong on its home turf in 2014 as it is a perfect 10-0 in Tointon Family Stadium. Always there cheering on their favorite team, even despite cold weather, Wildcat fans have proven faithful this season as crowds are averaging more than 2,600 fans each game.
"There's no doubt we've been getting good crowds out here," said Hill. "I'm just hoping it holds. We just have not, unfortunately, been blessed with good weather this spring, but hopefully the KU factor will bring a lot of the purple people out. We'll have great crowds out here and we'll be able to feed off of that enthusiasm and support."
Saturday and Sunday's game is already sold out of Cat Cushion seats with minimal standing room only tickets available.
Tonight's game is slated for a 6:30 p.m. start with sophomore right-handed pitcher Levi MaVorhis set to lead the Cats. Saturday's game will begin at 2 p.m., with Moore leading the pitching staff for K-State, while Sunday's game will begin at 1 p.m., with righty Nate Griep starting on the mound.
"There's always that little extra something that you put into it that makes it special," Moore said on the rivalry. "It's always fun to play schools like KU or Wichita State because you get a little bit of a mixed crowd and it's a really cool atmosphere to play in and be a part of. To be able to play against a rival team that so many fans really care about, that's special for us and gives us a little added incentive as we prepare and take the field on Friday."
All three games will be aired on Time Warner Cable Sports Channel (channel 22 on Cox/TWCI), while audio will be available on the K-State Sports Network on Friday and 1350 KMAN on Saturday and Sunday. Online audio will be available all weekend at www.k-statesports.com.
"Every weekend is big, but obviously this is the Big 12 with the added incentive of the in-state situation, so it's going to be an exciting weekend," said Hill. "You never know when K-State and KU line up how the game is going to play out."
For complete notes on this weekend's series, click here.