K-State Sports Extra: Closing the Door

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Take the lead into the eighth, and it's a Kansas State victory. It's all but a given for the Wildcats when the ball is handed to James Allen to close out another Wildcat victory.

The sophomore right-hander owns a perfect 5-0 record with seven saves, which is a figure that ranks sixth-high in the league heading into Wednesday's Big 12 Tournament at Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.

"I had no experience in closing games when I came here, but it has come pretty natural to me," said the St. Charles, Mo., product. "I don't think anyone knew what my role would be when I was recruited and came here, but it's worked out. It fits me well."

Prepping at Francis Howell High School, Allen posted a 4-0 pitching record, plus hit .448 in his senior year when he also hit five home runs in leading the Vikings to the conference and district championship.

Arriving as a freshman at K-State, Allen posted a 2-1 record, plus secured five saves with a 5.50 ERA in the record-setting 43-victory 2009 season. He had 41 strikeouts and 12 walks in 36 innings, but teams hit .302 against him in 24 appearances.

Now a sophomore, Allen has posted 34 strikeouts with 13 walks, but most importantly is the fact teams are hitting a measly .167 against him in his 23 appearances covering 41 innings.

Allen's 12 career saves in his first two years ranks third in K-State history only behind Daniel Edwards' 26 (2005-08) and David Johnson's 18 (1994-97). Also with 12 saves are Eric Rollins (2003-05) and Bryan Peterson (2005-06).

"I'm never 100 percent satisfied with myself, but I feel like I'm a stronger pitcher than last year and better prepared," said Allen. "Last year it was all new. I didn't ask too many questions about pitching in relief, but then it worked into being a closer and I really liked it. I hope I can deepen the role in my final two years."

Using a fastball, slider and changeup, Allen has the ability to touch 90 miles per hour with his fastball, but he quickly adds, "With me, it's all about location and not how hard I'm throwing."

Allen, who has worked in 23 of KSU's 53 games, says he approaches every game like he's going to be used with that focus intensifying in a close game starting about the seventh inning.

"I'd like to say I could throw in every game of a weekend series, but I'm not sure if that's physically possible," said Allen. "Mentally, that's how I feel, but I know the coaches know best on how much to use me."

Allen's next chance to show his stuff will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday against Baylor. The Wildcats will also play at 3 p.m. Friday against Kansas, and 4 p.m. on Saturday against Oklahoma.

Should K-State win Pool B, it would play the Pool A (Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Missouri) winner at 1 p.m. Sunday for the Big 12 Championship.

"We're excited about the tournament. We think we can win it," said Allen. "We're closing in on what we'd like to achieve. We understand that every game during the year matters, but these are the ones that really matter."