K-State Sports Extra: Establishing Tradition

MANHATTAN, Kan. - The announcement of the 64 NCAA Regional baseball teams started shortly after 11:30 Monday morning, but the 16- to 17-minute wait for the "Kansas State" name to flash on the ESPN screen seemed like a 16- to 17-inning game.

But in the end, it was a Wildcat victory as K-State will attend the Fayetteville Regional hosted by the University of Arkansas beginning on Friday.

On waiting until the next to last four-team Regional was announced, coach Brad Hill admitted to having some sweaty palms.

"I was late coming in the room because I was on web sites trying to see the latest projections out there," said the Wildcat coach. "Thank goodness we saw our name pop up there."

K-State, as the No. 3 seed, will put its 36-20 record on the line against No. 2 seed and 34-20 Washington State at 7:05 Friday night. The other two teams will be 40-17 Arkansas and 22-30 Grambling playing at 2:05 Saturday afternoon.

The two losing teams from Friday will be matched at 2:05 on Saturday, and the winners at 7:05. Games will also be at 2:05 and 7:05 on Sunday, plus, if needed, a final title game in the double-elimination tournament at 7:05 on Monday.

KSU placed third in the Big 12 and is one of five league teams to advance to the postseason joining No. 1 seeded Texas, No. 1 seeded Oklahoma, No. 2 seeded Baylor and No. 2 seeded Texas A&M.

The Wildcats are also the only team from the state of Kansas to make the NCAA Field of 64.

Arkansas placed second in the SEC's West Division, WSU was third in the Pac-10 and Grambling won the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship for the first time since 1985.

In the latest National College Baseball Writers Association poll, Arkansas was ranked No. 18, K-State No. 31 and Washington State No. 52.

"It was a little nerve-racking since we lost seven of the last 10, but we still thought we had a good chance. But it was a relief to see our name come up," said KSU shortstop Carter Jurica.

Adam Muenster added, "You're always worried until you see your name. We were confident that we had done enough to get in, but you're always a little nervous."

Hill added, "We haven't played our most consistent baseball over the last four weeks, but I thought placing third in the fourth-toughest conference should get us in." But he added, "Waiting to the next to last Regional (announced on ESPN) made you nervous."

After losing his entire weekend pitching rotation and six of nine position starters, Hill called this year's team making the tournament "...a tremendous accomplishment. We're trying to establish a tradition, which is a year-in, year-out process."

K-State hadn't made a tournament for 109 years until last year, and he said, "We didn't want to go another 109 years."

KSU will be facing a team that went 12-3 in its last 15 games. After a 20-year absence from Regional play, the Cougars made the tournament last year going 1-2 - losing to Arkansas, defeating Wichita State, losing to Oklahoma - in the Norman Regional.

This year's team is hitting only .293 and with just 39 home runs. Left fielder Brett Jacobs is the leading hitter at .358, while designated Matt Fanelli and middle infielder Cody Bartlett are at .316 and .315, respectively.

K-State counters with a .323 team average, which includes Big 12 Co-Player of the Year Nick Martini hitting .416, Muenster .386 and Jurica .359.

WSU plays more station-to-station baseball with just 61 stolen bases compared to KSU's more aggressive style of play with 114 steals out of 149 attempts.

A year ago, K-State won its first two games in the Houston Regional - 16-8 over Xavier and 7-6 over Rice - but then lost the next two to the Owls.