MANHATTAN, Kan.- Winners of five in a row, Kansas State will take a step up in competition this weekend as the Wildcats play host to No. 21 Cal Poly for a three-game series at Tointon Family Stadium. K-State, which has hit .328 and scored 46 runs in its five home games, faces a Mustang pitching staff that has all three weekend starting pitchers with sub-2.00 ERAs. The series schedule has been altered due to the threat of rain throughout the weekend as the teams will now play a doubleheader Friday beginning at 2 p.m. First pitch on Saturday is still scheduled for 2 p.m., but Sunday’s 11 a.m., contest could be played if Saturday’s game is rained out.
Friday’s game serves as the first pregame tailgate of the season, which features live music and multiple food and beverage options, while Sunday is a Family Day as fans can purchase a Wildcat 4 Pack that includes four general admission bench tickets and four concession vouchers for $30, while all kids can run the bases after the game. Fans can purchase tickets through the K-State Athletics Ticket office online at www.k-statesports.com/tickets, by phone at 1-800-221-CATS or at the Tointon Family Stadium box office.
All three games can be seen world-wide on K-StateHD.TV, K-State’s exclusive online digital network, while live audio of the entire series is available for free at both www.k-statesports.com and www.1350kman.com. The first game on Friday can be heard in the Manhattan area on SportsRadio 1350 KMAN, while the second contest will be only online due to the women’s basketball Big 12 Championship game against Texas. Saturday’s game can also be found exclusively online due to the men’s basketball game at Oklahoma State. If the two teams are forced to play on Sunday, that contest will air on KMAN.
K-STATE AT A GLANCE The Wildcats, who are 8-3, have opened up their 19-game homestand by winning the first five contests. The K-State offense has come to life in Manhattan as the Cats are averaging 9.2 runs on 11.4 hits in the five home games, reaching double-digits in hits in every contest and double-digits runs in the last four. Kansas State is paced offensively by sophomore Shane Conlon, who is second in the Big 12 with a .465 batting average. The first baseman has recorded at least one hit in all 11 games this year, the second-best start to a season in the Brad Hill era. Conlon, a product of Naperville, Ill., also ranks highly in six other Big 12 categories as he is second in total bases (30), third in hits (20), on-base percentage (.510), slugging percentage (.698) and steals (6), while he is fifth in home runs (2). Behind Conlon at .359 is second baseman Ross Kivett. The junior ranks second in the Big 12 in runs scored (13), sixth in steals (5) and ninth in on-base percentage (.510).
Not to be out-done by the offense, the Wildcat pitching staff has also been outstanding as of late by holding a 1.40 ERA in five home games, including a Wildcat bullpen that has not allowed an earned run over the last 15.2 innings. Sophomore right-hander Nate Williams will start the first game Friday, while junior left-hander Joe Flattery will start game two and sophomore right-hander Matt Wivinis gets the call on either Saturday or Sunday. Williams, who ranks fifth in the Big 12 with a 1.35 ERA, holds a 2-1 record and is coming off a career-long 7.2-inning effort last week against Oakland when he allowed one earned run on two hits with a walk and five strikeouts. Flattery has gradually improved each start, culminating with a win last week against the Grizzlies when he lasted a season-long 6.2 innings and allowed two runs on six hits. Wivinis also picked up the win against Oakland by tossing 5.1 innings and allowing three runs.
DID YOU KNOW… • Brad Hill became the second coach in program history to register 300 wins at K-State with the Wildcats’ win Tuesday against Niagara. • Hill entered the 2013 season seventh in the nation among active coaches with a .692 career winning percentage. • Kansas State is 63-8 in non-conference home games since 2009. • The Wildcats have stolen 17 consecutive bases and have been true on 22 of their last 25 stolen-base attempts. • Kansas State has nine triples in 11 games this season, the most in the first 11 games in the last 10 years. The Wildcats are on pace for 46 triples this year, which would break the school record of 38 in 1982. • K-State’s five quality starts by its weekend rotation in 2013 are the most since the 2009 club also had five in its first nine weekend games. • The Kansas State bullpen is currently riding a 15.2-inning streak without allowing an earned run. • Shane Conlon has opened up 2013 with an 11-game hitting streak, a mark that is the second-longest in Hill’s 10 years in Manhattan. • Austin Fisher has recorded a RBI in each of the last five games, the longest streak by a No. 9 hitter in the last 10 years. • Jon Davis has reached base safely in each of the last nine games despite the fact he has hits in only five of those contests. • Nate Williams has three-straight quality starts in his first three career starts, the best mark since Evan Marshall also had three to open 2010.
HOME COOKIN’ Kansas State opened its 31-game home schedule and a 19-game homestand last weekend against Oakland looking to turn Tointon Family Stadium into a home field advantage yet again. The Wildcats have been difficult to defeat at home over the last few years as they have won at least 20 home games in five of the last eight seasons, while they are 90-33 (.732) over the last four-plus years. K-State’s home record is even more impressive in non-conference games as the Cats are 63-8 (.887) 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 is on its side as the Cats are currently 213-82 (.722) in non-conference games under head coach Brad Hill, including a 104-45 (.698) mark over the last four-plus seasons. In regular season non-conference games, the Cats have been even tougher as they are 202-66 (.754) over the last nine-plus years and 96-33 (.744) from 2009-13.
CAL POLY AT A GLANCE Cal Poly, which has won 11 of its first 12 games, enters the weekend series against K-State ranked 21st in this week’s Collegiate Baseball Poll and 25th in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll and NCBWA Top 30. The Mustangs have played well on the road early on as they swept a three-game series at San Francisco to open the 2013 season and won two of three at Washington last week. CPU enters the weekend series fresh off a two-game midweek home sweep of Holy Cross, winning Tuesday’s game, 6-1, and Wednesday’s contest, 11-6.
The Mustangs, who are hitting .273 as a team, are led by senior infielder Denver Chavez at .444 with four doubles, one triple and eight RBI. Chavez also paces the squad with five steals in six attempts. Junior catcher Chris Hoo is tied for the team lead in RBI at 10 despite just eight hits as he has doubled twice and also homered. Hoo shares the team lead in RBI with sophomore outfielder Nick Torres, who leads the team with three home runs.
Entering play this week, Cal Poly was ranked third nationally in team ERA, a mark that now stands a 1.60. The pitching staff is led by its starting rotation that sees all three hurlers with sub-2.00 ERAs. Senior right-hander Joey Wagman will pitch the first game on Friday, while sophomore left-hander Matt Imhof will toe the rubber in the nightcap. The Mustangs are scheduled to start sophomore right-hander Bryan Granger in the series finale. Wagman is 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA, allowing four earned runs over 18.2 innings with six walks and 22 strikeouts. He is coming off a tough-luck loss last week at Washington after surrendering just two runs on four hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in 6.2 innings. Imhof enters the series with a 2-0 record a team-best 1.37 ERA after allowing three runs in his first 19.2 innings pitched. Imhof also leads the rotation with just three walks, while striking out 17. He picked up the win against the Huskies last weekend by allowing just three runs despite nine hits. Granger has won all three of his starts this year and holds a 1.42 ERA.
The Cal Poly bullpen is led by sophomore Reed Riley, who has five of the Mustangs’ seven saves. The right-hander has not given up an earned run in 11.1 innings of work, while he has walked just two batters and struck out 19. Sophomore lefty Taylor Chris and junior right-hander Michael Holback have the other two CPU saves this year.
THE CAL POLY SERIES This weekend’s series against Cal Poly is the first between Kansas State and the Mustangs on the diamond, while CPU is the sixth and final first-time opponent for the Wildcats this season. In eight total games against first-time opponents this year against High Point, George Mason, Kentucky and Elon, K-State holds a 6-2 record. Despite Cal Poly being a first-time opponent, the Wildcats do have recent success against current members of the Big West Conference. Overall, Kansas State is 12-8 against the conference, including a 7-2 mark since 2008. Kansas State won four games against Pacific in 2011 - a three-game sweep in Stockton, Calif., and a neutral-site victory later that season - while the Cats went 2-1 last year in Manhattan against the Tigers. In 2008, the Wildcats split a two-game series against No. 11 UC Irvine.
TOUGH NON-CON This weekend’s series against Cal Poly marks the first time in the last 10 years Kansas State is scheduled to play a three-game series against a ranked non-conference opponent at Tointon Family Stadium. Since 2004, the Wildcats have played just seven of those games overall, going 3-4. Of the seven, four are against Wichita State, while the other three were against West Coast schools in 2008. Kansas State split a two-game series against UC Irvine, dropping the opener, 4-3, before a 9-7 11-inning victory the next day. Later that season, the Wildcats topped No. 3 Arizona State, 7-6.
THE FRIENDLY CONFINES After consecutive trips to South Carolina to open the season, K-State is in the middle of 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 are the most since 1982. During the long homestand, the Wildcats will face eight different opponents, including 21st-ranked Cal Poly this weekend, and a pair of Big Ten foes in Minnesota and Nebraska. Additionally, the homestand serves as the beginning of conference play as Kansas State hosts West Virginia in the Mountaineers’ first ever Big 12 series, March 15-17.
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, six freshmen hurlers in Landon Busch, Hayden Nixon, Jake Matthys, Levi MaVorhis, Blake McFadden and Josh Smith have found early success. The group has combined to go 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA while walking eight and striking out 18. Matthys has been especially impressive in his first four collegiate appearances. The Spring Lake Park, Minn., product, who has not surrendered a run in five innings, 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, while McFadden won his first career start by tossing five solid innings on Wednesday.
CONLON’S HOT START Sophomore Shane Conlon is off to one of the better starts offensively in the Brad Hill era at K-State as he has hit in each of the first 11 games, a mark that ranks second. The start by Conlon, who leads the team and ranks second in the Big 12 with a .465 (20-for-43) average, is impressive considering he is hitting for the first time since 2011. Last season, Conlon was exclusively a pitcher before an injury cut his season short. Conlon was a big reason why K-State was able to knock off No. 8 Kentucky on February 21 as he went 5-for-5 with a two-run homer while also scoring a pair of runs. His five hits and eight total bases against a talented Kentucky pitching staff are the most in the Big 12 this year and the most by a Wildcat against a top-10 team since at least 1999.
FISHER BECOMES STAPLE AT SHORT After a battle during the offseason, sophomore Austin Fisher has taken ahold of the starting job at shortstop with his play over the first 11 games. The Lenexa, Kan., product is hitting a shade below .300 at .297 with two doubles, one triple, one homer and a team-leading nine RBI. His RBI total is impressive as he has hit ninth in the batting order each game. In fact, Fisher is currently riding a streak of five-straight games with a RBI, which is the top mark by a No. 9 hitter in the last 10 years. Fisher has continually delivered the big hit for the Wildcats early on as he has a team-leading four two-out RBI, three of which came Tuesday against Niagara.
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 three career starts, surrendering just three earned runs over 20 innings pitched. The Valley Center, Kan., product is coming off a career-long 7.2-inning performance against Oakland, a game in which he no-hit the Grizzlies through the first 5.2 innings. Williams is first Wildcat pitcher to register quality starts (six or more innings pitched, three or fewer earned runs allowed) in his first three career starts since Evan Marshall also began the 2010 season with three straight. Additionally, Williams is off to the third-best start to a season by a starting pitcher in 20 innings pitched during head coach Brad Hill’s nine-plus year in Manhattan.
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 PICKS UP MILESTONE VICTORY In his 10th year as the Kansas State head coach, Brad Hill became the second coach in program history with 300 victories as he picked up the milestone win Tuesday against Niagara. His now 301 wins at K-State rank second to the program’s all-time winningest coach Mike Clark, who registered 435 wins from 1987-2003. Additionally, Hill’s .570 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. In last Sunday’s doubleheader against Oakland, Hill registered his 800th career win 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 717 as the NCAA only takes into account records at four-year institutions).