MANHATTAN, Kan. - Sitting at 3-3 following a pair of early-season weekends in South Carolina, Kansas State opens its 31-game home schedule and a 19-game homestand this weekend with a three-game series against Oakland at Tointon Family Stadium. The original schedule has been altered due to low temperatures on Friday as the Wildcats and Grizzlies will now open the series Saturday beginning at 1 p.m., before a doubleheader Sunday beginning at 12 p.m. Live audio of all three games will be available online for free at either www.k-statesports.com or www.1350kman.com, while Sunday’s doubleheader will air in its entirety on K-StateHD.TV and SportsRadio 1350 KMAN.
K-State is looking to bounce back from a 1-2 record last weekend in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Last Thursday, the Wildcats dropped a heart-breaking 2-1 contest against Coastal Carolina as the Chanticleers scored the eventual game-winning run on a throwing error in the bottom of the seventh inning. However, Kansas State was able to quickly bounce back later in the day to defeat No. 8 Kentucky, 7-5, as K-State recorded a five-run fifth inning, while Shane Conlon capped his 5-for-5 day with a two-run homer in the eighth to give the Cats a four-run lead. Conlon’s first career homer would be very important in the final outcome as UK came back with two runs in the ninth. After a two-day layoff, K-State dropped a 4-3 contest Sunday against Elon. The Wildcats held leads of 2-0 and 4-1, but a two-run Phoenix eighth inning proved to be the difference.
Thanks to his seven-hit weekend, Conlon paces the Wildcats offensively with a .500 (13-for-26) batting average, a mark that also ranks fourth in the Big 12. Junior second baseman Ross Kivett is second on the team at .391 (9-for-23), while junior Damion Lovato is third at .385 (5-for-13) after going 4-for-8 with three RBI in a pair of starts as the team’s designated hitter in Myrtle Beach.
Kansas State will send sophomore right-hander Nate Williams to the mound on Saturday, while junior left-hander Joe Flattery and sophomore righty Matt Wivinis will be on the hill in Sunday’s twin bill. Williams is off to a great start in his first year as a starting pitcher, holding a 1-1 record and a 1.46 ERA after allowing just two earned runs over 12.1 innings with three walks and nine strikeouts. The Valley Center, Kan., product suffered a tough-luck loss last week at Coastal Carolina after allowing two runs (one earned) over 6.1 innings of work.
Both Flattery and Wivinis were able to bounce back last week from slow starts during the opening weekend. Thursday night against eighth-ranked Kentucky, Flattery gave up two runs on four hits in four innings just one week after lasting only two innings and surrendering seven runs (five earned) in a loss at The Citadel. On Sunday against Elon, Wivinis registered his first-career quality start, allowing one run on three hits with no walks and three strikeouts in six innings of a no decision.
DID YOU KNOW • Kansas State is 58-8 in non-conference home games since 2009. • Kansas State’s three quality starts by its pitchers thus far in 2013 are the most since the 2010 club had four in its first six games. • Brad Hill entered the 2013 season seventh in the nation among active coaches with a .692 career winning percentage. Hill is four wins away from 300 in his K-State career. • In the last four years, Kansas State has averaged 22.4 steals over games 7-12 after averaging just 10 steals over the first six games those seasons. This year, the Wildcats have seven steals in the first six games. • K-State tallied 15 strikeouts against George Mason on February 17, the most by the Wildcats since March 11, 2011. • Shane Conlon registered five hits against No. 8 Kentucky last Thursday, the most by a Wildcat against a top-10 team since at least 1999. • Nate Williams has two-straight quality starts in his first two career starts, the best mark since Evan Marshall had three-straight to open 2010.
HOME COOKIN’ Kansas State opens its 31-game home schedule and a 19-game homestand this weekend against Oakland looking to continue a recent trend of success. The Wildcats are 9-3 in their last 12 home openers, including wins in five of the last seven seasons, but K-State will look to make amends for a 7-2 setback against Pacific in last year’s home opener.
Overall, the Wildcats have been difficult to defeat at Tointon Family Stadium as they have won at least 20 home games in five of the last eight seasons, including an 85-33 (.720) mark over the past four years. K-State’s home record is even more impressive in non-conference games as the Cats are 58-8 (.921) since 2009, including a perfect 18-0 mark four years ago.
QUICK STARTS With 17 newcomers and 19-straight home games in the month of March, it is important for the Wildcats to get off to a quick start this season as 16 of their final 22 games are on the road. Fortunately for K-State, history will be on its side as the Cats are currently 208-82 (.717) in non-conference games under head coach Brad Hill, including a 99-45 (.688) mark over the past four-plus seasons. In regular season non-conference games, the Cats have been even tougher as they are 197-66 (.749) over the past nine-plus years and 91-33 (.734) from 2009-13.
KNOCKING OFF THE TOP 10 Kansas State’s 7-5 victory over No. 8 Kentucky last Thursday was an encouraging sign for the beginning of the season, especially considering the Wildcats had just dropped a heart-breaking 2-1 contest to Coastal Carolina earlier in the day. The victory marked the second neutral-site win over a non-league top-10 team under head coach Brad Hill. The Wildcats are now 2-2 in those games, falling to No. 1 Rice, 13-0, at Minute Maid Park in Houston during the 2004 season before splitting a pair of games against No. 4 Arizona State in Surprise, Ariz., in 2009.
THE NEED FOR SPEED A program that has recorded over 100 steals each of the last five seasons, Kansas State will look to improve its early-season steals number beginning this weekend against Oakland. The Wildcats have just seven steals in the first six games, but if history is on its side, K-State should see a significant increase in stolen bases over the next six games. During the 2008-12 seasons, the Wildcats averaged just 10.4 steals over the first six contests (1.7 per game) but saw that average jump to 22.4 (3.7 per game) over games 7-12.
OAKLAND AT A GLANCE Oakland opened its 2013 campaign last weekend at Maryland, dropping four games of a two-day doubleheader in College Park, Md. Maryland, which is coached by former K-State Associate Head Coach John Szefc, topped the Grizzlies by counts of 15-4 and 8-4 in a doubleheader last Friday before sweeping a Sunday twin bill with wins of 8-0 and 4-3.
The Grizzlies, who are hitting .206 as a team, were led by sophomore infielder Robby Enslen in the Maryland series, who hit .385 (5-for-13) with a double and one RBI. Right behind Enslen at .357 (5-for-14) was junior outfielder Jared Theisen, while two-way player Kyle Bobolts was also above .300 at .333 (5-for-15). Theisen led the team with three RBI, and senior Todd Dunham, who went 3-for-13, paced the squad with two doubles.
Oakland is expected to start junior left-hander Jason Hager on the mound in Saturday’s contest, while right-handers Jake Paulson and Tim Koons will start the first and second game of Sunday’s doubleheader, respectively. Last Friday in the Grizzlies’ season opener, Hager took a no decision after allowing four runs on four hits with a pair of walks and four strikeouts in 4.1 innings. Hager went 5-3 with a 4.34 ERA in 64.1 innings pitched last season.
Paulson, a sophomore, suffered the loss in the second game of last Friday’s doubleheader despite giving up just three runs on seven hits with two walks and three strikeouts in five innings. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Paulson went 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in 19 appearances.
A sophomore from Castle Rock, Colo., Koons lasted six innings last Sunday and struck out seven batters while allowing four runs on five hits and four walks. Koons transferred to Oakland from Fort Scott Community College and posted a 3-0 record with a 2.60 ERA in his two-year career at FSCC.
Freshman right-hander Jonah Lakatos found the most success out of the Oakland bullpen last weekend, tossing two shutout innings while working around a pair of hits and two walks with two strikeouts as his performance in the second game of last Friday’s doubleheader kept the Grizzlies in the contest. Senior righty Kevin Korkate was the only Oakland reliever used on more than one occasion. He bounced back from a disappointing performance Friday when he allowed four runs while recording just one out by tossing a shutout inning in the first game on Sunday.
THE OAKLAND SERIES Kansas State’s weekend series against Oakland marks the first meeting on the diamond between the two programs. The Grizzlies are the fifth of six teams K-State is facing for the first time this year as High Point, George Mason, Kentucky and Elon were all first-time meetings, while the Wildcats will take on Cal Poly for the first time in a three-game series next weekend at Tointon Family Stadium.
The Wildcats hold a 32-2 record all-time against current members of The Summit League with a majority of those contests coming against Western Illinois (13-2). The three games against Oakland are the first of five against Summit League members as the Wildcats will host Nebraska Omaha on April 3 and travel to Omaha, Neb., to take on the Mavericks on April 10. Last season, K-State swept a three-game series from UNO.
THE FRIENDLY CONFINES After consecutive trips to South Carolina to open the season, K-State is set to enjoy a 19-game homestand to begin the month of March. The 19-consecutive home games are tied for the second most in school history and the most since 1982. During the long homestand, the Wildcats will face eight different opponents including Big West power Cal Poly and a pair of Big Ten foes in Minnesota and Nebraska. Additionally, the homestand also sees the beginning of conference play as Kansas State hosts West Virginia in the Mountaineers’ first ever Big 12 series.
YOUNG GUNS With 10 freshmen pitchers on the staff, it is imperative that younger arms must step up for K-State during the 2013 season. So far, five freshmen hurlers in right-handers Jake Matthys, Levi MaVorhis and Blake McFadden, and lefties Landon Busch and Hayden Nixon have found early success. The group has combined to go 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA while walking six and striking out 10.
Matthys has been especially impressive in his first three collegiate appearances. The Spring Lake Park, Minn., product earned the win against George Mason as he entered the game runners on the corners and two outs in the sixth inning and got out of the frame with a ground out before retiring six of the next eight batters he faced. MaVorhis also picked up the win against No. 8 Kentucky by allowing just an unearned run on two hits with a strikeout in two innings.
CONLON’S BIG DAY Sophomore Shane Conlon was on fire during the nightcap of a doubleheader last Thursday as he guided K-State to a 7-5 victory over No. 8 Kentucky. The first baseman went 5-for-5 with a two-run homer while also scoring a pair of runs. Conlon’s two-run blast in the eighth inning against UK – which was his first career home run – proved to be the eventual game-winning hit, while his five hits and eight total bases against a talented Kentucky pitching staff that included preseason All-America starting pitcher A.J. Reed are the most in the Big 12 this year and the most by a Wildcat against a top-10 team since at least 1999.
Conlon, who has recorded at least one hit in all six games this year, is hitting for the first time since 2011 as he was exclusively a pitcher last year before an injury cut his season short. The Naperville, Ill., product leads the team and ranks fourth in the Big 12 with his .500 average. He also ranks third in the league in slugging percentage (.731), is tied for fourth in total bases (19), tied for fifth in hits (13) and tied for seventh in on-base percentage (.500).
SO FAR, SO GOOD Sophomore pitcher Nate Williams, who tallied a K-State freshman record six saves in 23 outings last year, has been outstanding in his first two career starts. The Valley Center, Kan., product tossed six innings and allowed just one run with a career-best six strikeouts on February 15 against High Point before lasting 6.1 innings and giving up just one more earned run last Thursday against Coastal Carolina.
Williams became the first Wildcat pitcher to register quality starts (six or more innings pitched, three or fewer earned runs allowed) in his first two career starts since Evan Marshall began the 2010 season with three straight. Marshall, who is a non-roster invite to the Arizona Diamondbacks major-league camp for a second-straight year, allowed just four earned runs over 21 innings against East Tennessee State, Northeastern and Notre Dame to begin 2010.
SANTIGATE’S SIZZLING START A season after collecting just three hits in his first 12 at-bats and hitting .204 overall in 50 games, junior third baseman RJ Santigate began 2013 on fire as he went 7-for-12 with a double and two RBI during the season-opening Citadel Memorial Challenge. The Las Vegas, Nev., product’s great start offensively coincided with the Wildcats’ first-weekend production. The Wildcats had 40 hits, the most in the first three games since 2009, while Santigate’s seven hits individually were the most in the first three games by a K-State hitter since Justin Bloxom also had seven to open the 2009 campaign.
KING PULLS IN HONORS A season after leading the Big 12 during the regular season with a .378 batting average, junior Jared King gained national attention entering the 2013 season. The outfielder was named a preseason All-American by both Baseball America and Perfect Game, and the accolade from Baseball America was especially impressive considering the fact that the teams were voted on by Major League Baseball scouting directors. Baseball America also slotted King as the 39th best prospect nationally among juniors.
Other honors for King prior to the 2013 season included being named the Big 12’s best player by College Baseball Today and Perfect Game as well as the conference player of the year, best pure hitter, best athlete and best defensive outfielder by Baseball America. Additionally, Perfect Game lists King as the fifth-best prospect, but tops among position players, in the Big 12 among players eligible for this year’s draft.
HILL APPROACHING MILESTONE VICTORIES In his 10th year as the Kansas State head coach, Brad Hill can achieve a pair of milestone victories over the next two series. Hill, the 2009 Big 12 Coach of the Year, is three wins away from 800 career victories as a collegiate head coach when taking into account his 83 wins as the skipper at Hutchinson Community College from 1988-90 (Hill’s official career win total stands at 714 as the NCAA only takes into account records at four-year institutions). Hill can also accomplish something that has only been done once in Manhattan as he needs four wins to reach 300 victories at Kansas State. Hill is second in program history to K-State’s all-time winningest coach Mike Clark, who registered 435 victories from 1987-2003.
Hill entered the 2013 season with a .692 (711-315-3) career winning percentage at four-year schools, which ranked seventh nationally among active coaches. His current .566 winning percentage at Kansas State ranks fourth in program history among coaches that have been at the helm for at least 100 games. Mike Ahearn holds the top mark at .734 (93-33-2) from 1904-10.