Top 10 Moments of the 2000s: No. 7

K-State Advances to First Big 12 Tournament

This is the fourth edition of a 10-part series chronicling the top 10 Kansas State Baseball moments of the 2000s, counting down to the Wildcats' 2010 season opener on February 19 against Delaware. The events were voted on by an eight-person panel consisting of: Head Coach Brad Hill; former Head Coach and Director of Development Mike Clark; Associate Athletics Director Casey Scott; Director of Baseball Operations Justin Tadtman; Sports Information Director Kenny Lannou; Baseball SID Ryan Lackey; and the Voices of K-State Baseball, Brian Smoller and Matt Walters.

MANHATTAN, Kan. - The hard work of everyone involved with Kansas State baseball throughout the 1990's and early 2000's, starting with head coach Mike Clark, was starting to pay off in the 2002 season when the Wildcats advanced to the school's first-ever Big 12 Tournament.

The Wildcats were able to advance to the postseason conference tournament thanks in part to their play during the final stretches of the regular season. K-State headed to Columbia, Mo., with a spot in the tournament up for grabs. All the Wildcats did was sweep the Tigers in a rain-shortened two-game series by scores of 5-3 and 10-1 to qualify for the tournament.

The winning streak continued into the next weekend as Kansas State promptly swept in-state rival Kansas the final weekend to finish 13-13 in conference play, its most Big 12 wins in school history at the time, and a school-best fifth-place finish in the Big 12.

In the 2002 Big 12 Tournament at the Ballpark at Arlington, Kansas State continued its solid play from the previous weekends. The Wildcats drew No. 17 Texas Tech in the first round and took the third-seeded Red Raiders into 12 innings before eventually dropping a 5-4 decision.

Needing a win the very next day to stay alive, the Wildcats used a three-run fourth inning to top 25th-ranked Baylor and bounce the Bears out of the tournament. The victory was Kansas State's first in the postseason since the 1995 Big Eight Tournament.

"This is a proud moment for our program," said Clark following the contest. "These guys are special kids. They have played hard all season long. We finished fifth in the regular season and have competed hard against two great ball clubs. This is a historic moment for K-State. This is our first tournament win. This is huge for K-Staters everywhere and our program."

In another elimination game, Kansas State faced Texas Tech for the second time in three days. The Red Raiders came out on fire, scoring five runs in the first inning. Most teams would have laid down following that early outburst. But the Wildcats began chipping away, scoring one run in the first and two runs in the second.

Following scoreless third and fourth frames, the Cats came through with a pair of runs in the fifth to tie the game. Texas Tech came back with a run in the sixth to take back its lead, but a passed ball scored Pat Maloney to tie the game again.

In the eighth, Nick Sorensen reached on a bunt single before stealing second base and moving to third on another passed ball. Brandon Taylor then laced a double down the left-field line to bring in the eventual game-winning run and move the Cats one step closer to a conference championship.

For the first-time participants to advance to the conference championship, the Wildcats had to defeat top-seeded Nebraska twice.

The Wildcats hung with the Huskers, scoring two runs in both the third and fourth innings before taking a 7-6 lead in the bottom of the seventh on a pair of RBI singles and a sacrifice fly. But the eighth-ranked Huskers came back to score single runs in the eighth and ninth to win 8-7 and advance to the championship game.

"I am so proud of the way the team played all tournament and again today," said Clark after the game. "I'm just thankful that I was here for the ride."

The Wildcats' run through the 2002 Big 12 Tournament was the beginning of what proved to be the most successful decade in program history, which culminated in 2009 with a school-best 43-win season and the program's first NCAA Regional

Top 10 K-State Baseball Moments of the 2000's
No. 10: Into the Bottom of the 20th We Go... (2/9)
No. 9: Cats Top KU Before Stadium-Record Crowd (2/10)
No. 8: Hill, Morris Garner National Awards (2/11)
No. 7: K-State Advances to First Big 12 Tournament (2/12)
No. 6: February 13
No. 5: February 14
No. 4: February 15
No. 3: February 16
No. 2: February 17
No. 1: February 18