K-State Sports Extra: Sunflower Showdown

by Mark Janssen

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Brad Hill is taking nothing for granted. Or as he says, "You're never in until you're in. As a coach, you're always living on the edge thinking, 'What if.' "

With a third-place record of 11-9 in the Big 12, Hill knows it would take an absolute total collapse for his club not to get into the eight-team Big 12 Tournament in Oklahoma City on May 26-30.

But as for reaching an NCAA Regional for the second year in a row, Hill says, "We know we have work to do."

That work begins at 7 p.m. Friday in Lawrence, and continues Saturday at 6:30 and Sunday at 2:00 at Tointon Family Stadium against the University of Kansas.

"Kansas smells it right now after sweeping Missouri last week," said Hill of KU's 10-3, 9-8, 10-9 sweep of the Tigers. "With two good weekends (OU next week), they know they could finish second in the Big 12. They're on a roll right now."

K-State, ranked No. 24, is 11-9 in the league and 32-15 overall. Kansas is 10-10-1 and 29-19-1.

"Offensively, we've had a tough time figuring them out," said Hill. "It's a team that stays in the game, and then when they strike, they strike hard."

K-State needs a total of three more wins against Kansas this week, or at Texas A&M next week, to match last year's total of 14 league wins. With a goal of going at least 2-1 in each home series, and at least 1-2 in each road series, Hill said, "We're about where we should be."

K-State is 9-3 in home Big 12 series against Oklahoma State (3-0), Nebraska (2-1), Baylor (3-0) and Texas (1-2), and 2-6 on the road against Texas Tech (1-2), Missouri (0-2) and Oklahoma (1-2).

"To win the conference, you have to do better than that," said Hill. "We had a couple sweeps, but then we gave a win back going 0-2 at Missouri and 1-2 at home with Texas."

To last year's fourth-place Big 12 team that ended up with a school record 43 wins, Hill said of the two teams, "Completely different. We don't have that premier guy on the mound in A.J. Morris, we don't have the power of last year, and we don't have the maturity and depth in the lineup."

But what this K-State team does have is a league-high .329 team batting average, a league-high 101 stolen bases, the Nos. 1 and 3 hitters in the league in Nick Martini (.424) and Adam Muenster (.391), and the league's RBI leader in Carter Jurica with 60.

While the Wildcats may not have an A.J. Morris on the mound (14-1, 2.09) like last year, they do have Kyle Hunter, who is 8-0 with a 3.73 ERA.

"Kyle has shown glimpses of what A.J. did, but he's not over that threshold," said Hill. "He's not that eight- and nine-inning guy like A.J., but he has been consistent at six and seven innings."

With Ryan Daniel injured, the challenge Hill faces is to find a third starter to go with Justin Lindsey and Hunter. The candidates are a pair of sophomore right-handers in Kayvon Bahramzadeh (1-3, 6.15) and Matt Applegate (1-1, 8.59).

"Kayvon has shown to be more consistent and has more experience from a starting standpoint, while Matt has better stuff, but is not used to being a starter," said Hill. "We'll likely keep them where they are comfortable and have experience."

Along with being concerned about the Jayhawks, Hill is always iffy about academic finals week.

"Coaches never like taking days off," said the Wildcat coach. "And when guys are up until two and three in the morning studying, that's not really quality time off."

After this weekend, K-State ends regular-season play at Texas A&M next Friday, Saturday and Sunday.