SE: Fall Closes with K-State Baseball Deep in Leadership, Potential

It wasn’t Jake Scudder’s tear at the plate that stood out to K-State head baseball coach Brad Hill from the Wildcats’ Fall World Series, a three-game intra-squad series to end fall practices. The senior’s 7-for-11 series with 11 RBIs was impressive, but Hill was more proud of what his veterans, like Scudder, provided from a leadership standpoint. 

“I thought our older guys did a nice job of taking charge, of coming out every day and showing how you’re supposed to play and how you’re supposed to approach every day,” said Hill, whose team will hold nine seniors in 2017. “We still have some immaturity in some of those young guys that have a chance of helping us. They’re going to have to mature, and I think the older guys are trying to help them through that. More than anything, I liked the way our older guys were trying to take control of the team and making sure we’re doing the right things every day.”

From the start of fall practices until Sunday’s final World Series game, Hill said the younger group of players made significant progress in terms of confidence and comfort within the program. 

“Guys are more confident in what they’re doing, because you come in at first and it’s new guys, new coaches, new systems,” he said. “Now, they just look more confident.”

For the three-game series, senior outfielder Quintin Crandall went 5-for-11 at the plate with four runs driven in. Freshman infielder Cameron Thompson also notched five hits in 11 at-bats while scoring six runs. Grant Reuben, a sophomore infielder, recorded a pair of two-hit games and junior outfielder Hanz Harker finished the series 3-for-8 with five walks and four runs.

“Obviously, I think we made progress. A coach is never going to be satisfied with where we’re at, but you see some potentially good things,” Hill said. “We have a good nucleus of position players, experienced guys coming back who have their game together pretty well. We’re going to need to develop some depth and we need three or four other kids, who are probably going to start, to really elevate their game during the offseason.”

On the mound, Hill said K-State was limited in the fall with some injuries and others who were held out as a precaution, leaving the majority of the pitching duties to freshmen. Sophomore Bryce Ward, on the All-Big 12 Freshman Team in 2015 before missing last year with an injury, did return to throw five one-hit innings in Sunday’s game.  

“Again, there are some guys who made some good progress. The freshmen got tired toward the end. We had two or three freshmen that had nice a fall but just wore down toward the end and need to get stronger,” Hill said. “That’s the focus in the offseason now. Can we get some of those young guys stronger, more confident and able to do some more things?”

Hill, entering his 14th season as K-State’s head coach, was excited about two newcomers in particular. Kyle Barfield, a junior out of Texas, broke out in Sunday’s game with a 4-for-6 performance that included three RBIs and three runs scored. Sophomore pitcher Justin Heskett, a community-college transfer out of California, tossed four shutout innings in K-State’s second Fall World Series game. 

“Barfield’s a guy that played really strong in his last 10 days and got better throughout the fall,” Hill said. “Heskett threw the ball really well for us. He’s confident in what he’s doing and has a plan for what he’s doing. I thought he did a nice job.”

With fall practices now completed, Hill said the focus over the offseason in preparation for the 2017 season, which starts February 17, 2017, becomes more individually driven. 

“It’s more of an individual time, ‘What do I need to do personally to get better?’ For some guys it’s get stronger. For some guys it’s improve their swing or be more consistent with their swing. For some of the young guys it could be developing a second pitch and being more consistent with what they’re doing,” he said. “There’s a lot of different things, but it’s more individualized right now on what guys have to do individually, personally to get better.”

The individual focus doesn’t negate the importance of the team, however, which is where Hill said he expects the Wildcats’ leadership to step in. 

“The older guys can’t just leave the younger players and get worried about themselves. They know the success of our team will hinge on how well some of those other guys develop, because we’re going to need some complimentary players to help out,” Hill said. “They need to make sure they’re leading those guys the right way over the wintertime and that they are doing the work they need to do to get better and they’re not taking that time off. 

“The potential of what we have is exciting, and we’ll see where it takes us. Our guys have a lot of work to do during the offseason still. We can’t be stagnant or go backwards during the offseason, we really need some guys to move forward and present themselves to us improved when we come back after Christmas.”

K-State, which returns 15 letterwinners highlighted by two All-Big 12 performers in Scudder and sophomore catcher Josh Rolette, opens its home schedule on Friday, March 3, as it hosts Eastern Illinois for a three-game series and will begin a stretch of 14 consecutive home games in the month of March. The Wildcats’ 2017 schedule was released last week and tickets are now on sale.  

To purchase season tickets, fans can visit www.k-statesports.com/tickets, call 1-800-221-CATS (2287) or stop by the K-State Athletics Ticket Office in Bramlage Coliseum.