ALLEN 'STOPS' THEM ALL
No, it's not until K-State's No. 20 swings into motion, kicks his leg and fires a five-ounce leather baseball that it becomes missile-status at over 90 miles per hour zooming through the 60-foot-6 inch distance to home plate to, in all reality, what has been a defenseless opponent. Oh, the man at the plate carries an aluminum Nike weapon of a bat, but history says the batsman has no chance. Kansas State's junior pitcher James Allen has been that imposing this year, and last year, as well, as the Wildcats' closer. "James is a kid that is really new as a pitcher," said head coach Brad Hill. "In high school, he pitched minimally. Your athletes tend to develop more, and he is an athlete. His arm has gotten quicker and faster, but the biggest thing for him is his competitiveness and composure. He doesn't get rattled in situations. He's a guy you want with the ball for the win at the end of the game." For the year, the St. Charles, Mo., product sports a 2-1 record with 15 saves. He has a 0.83 ERA over 32 2/3 innings. He's given up just 18 hits - 14 singles and four doubles - as opposing hitters have hit an anemic .150 against him. He has fanned 37 hitters and walked just six. Last week, Allen was named as one of 25 quarterfinalists for the 2011 Pitcher of the Year Award in college baseball along with five other pitchers from the Big 12 Conference: Oklahoma's Michael Rocha, Texas' Cory Knebel and Taylor Jungman, Texas A&M's Ross Stripling and Texas Tech's John Neely. To that recognition, and the statistics that go with it, Allen says, "I'm not a big numbers guy. How the team is doing is how I'm doing. That's just the way it is. I want to give what the team needs and just throw as well as I can." Allen, a preseason All-American, has had a hand in 17 of K-State's 28 victories, to go with last year's numbers of 5-1 with a 2.28 ERA and nine saves in a year when the squad went 37-22. Those are pretty fancy numbers for a shortstop out of Francis Howell High School, where he was better known for his abilities as a hitter with his .448 batting average and his five homers and 34 RBI as a senior. "I started a few games (as a pitcher), but I think that was just because I had signed with a Big 12 team," said Allen. "When I did pitch, it was more as a closer. I think that's how I was recruited, but I don't know that as fact." Allen says he doesn't know how hard he throws a baseball, but he does suggest, "I'd like to think it's 90-plus."
Whether it's at 88 or 92, it's a fastball with movement, mixed in with an occasional slider, that has made Allen nearly automatic on the mound. That's especially true with the "high hard one" that he says he uses as an "out pitch." If you don't believe it, just ask Texas Tech as the K-State right-hander recorded three saves in the historic three-game sweep of the Red Raiders last month. With a save in the series finale, Allen set the K-State record for saves in a season (13) and career saves (27).
He is also the first Wildcat to save three games in a conference series in the Big 12 era and the first Big 12 closer to do so since 2009. Texas Tech struggled to get anything going against Allen, as he fired three innings and allowed just one hit. "It's a good record, but I just want to get wins," said Allen, who has since upped those records to 15 saves for a single season and 29 for a three-year career. "If I pitch or not, it doesn't matter. I just want to see us get wins as a team. If I'm getting saves, then that means we're getting wins. I'm not even going to think about the records until the end of the season because we still have a lot of games left to play." Allen stops short of admitting that closers are a "touch unique," but he does say, "You do have to have a certain mindset and toughness about you." Allen says he relaxes in the K-State dugout with his teammates through the first six innings of games before heading toward the bullpen in the seventh inning. "I just want to stretch out and start thinking about any situation that might come up in the eighth or ninth inning," said Allen. "It's a time where you start focusing and stop goofing around."
One subject that Allen is not goofing around with is his future at the next level. "We have games left this season, so I haven't even put that thought in my head," said the junior. "I just want to finish this season off strong." Whether it's after this season, or the next, Hill is one that thinks his closer can be a factor in Major League Baseball. "He has a fresh arm," said Hill. "He's only 20 and he didn't pitch much in high school. The pros can do their thing and maybe up him five or six miles per hour. I could see that happening." Allen's next opportunity for saves will come this weekend at Tointon Family Stadium when the Wildcats host New Orleans in a three-game series. Games will be played at 6:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 1 p.m. on Sunday.
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