MANHATTAN, Kan. - With only two non-conference games remaining in the regular season, Kansas State will travel to Lincoln Wednesday to take on Nebraska in a 6:35 p.m., contest at Hawks Field. The game was originally scheduled for Tuesday evening but was pushed back one day to avoid cold temperatures as the Wildcats are in search of their first season sweep of the Huskers since 2010. The game can be heard in the Manhattan area on SportsRadio 1350 KMAN with Matt Walters and Ryan Lackey on the call. Free live audio is also available online at both www.k-statesports.com and www.1350kman.com.
K-STATE AT A GLANCE Coming off a series loss at No. 27 Oklahoma State, Kansas State enters the midweek contest with a 28-13 record, including a 7-6 mark in Big 12 play. The Cowboys jumped out of the gate with a 9-2 win in Friday’s opener and outscored K-State 5-0 over the final five innings on Saturday to earn a 7-6 comeback victory. However, the Wildcats were able to salvage the final game of the series on Sunday when Jake Matthys tossed 4.1 scoreless innings of relief with three strikeouts and Jared King hit the eventual game-winning home run in the sixth inning as the Wildcats edged Oklahoma State, 3-2.
K-State, which continues to receive votes in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches’ Top 25 and the NCBWA polls, is still the national leader in batting average with a .331 mark, while the Wildcats are fourth in hits at 468. K-State leads the Big 12 in average by 36 points and paces the league by 60 hits. In addition, the Cats hold the top mark in on-base percentage (.409), slugging percentage (.462), runs (267), RBI (239) and steals (77).
Each of the eight regular starters in the K-State lineup are hitting .320 or better as the Wildcats have five players that rank in the top-10 of the Big 12 in batting average. Leadoff man Ross Kivett and No. 2 hitter Tanner Witt hold team-high honors with identical .364 batting averages (60-for-165) to tie for fifth in the conference. Catcher Blair DeBord is second on the team and eighth in the Big 12 at .362, while King (.355) and Jon Davis (.353) are ninth and 10th in the conference, respectively.
Kansas State will start right-hander Jake Doller against Nebraska on Wednesday. The senior holds a 2-2 record and a 2.08 ERA in 10 appearances, including seven starts. Doller, who had not started prior to this year, was solid in his first three career starts as he went 2-1 and did not allow an earned run over 17.2 innings with three walks and 18 strikeouts. However, the Lake Waukomis, Mo., product will be looking to limit the walks that have plagued him in his last four starts. Beginning on March 26 against Nebraska, Doller has not made it out of the fifth inning in each of his last four starts, totaling 14 walks and nine strikeouts in 14 innings over that stretch. DID YOU KNOW • Kansas State leads the Big 12 in eight offensive categories, including batting average (.331), hits (468) and runs (267). • The Wildcats’ .331 batting average at this point in the season is their second-highest under head coach Brad Hill. The 2010 club, which finished third in school history in average, was hitting .337 through 41 games. • Kansas State holds the top three spots among active career stolen-base leaders in the Big 12 as Ross Kivett is first (51), Tanner Witt is second (43) and Jared King is third (40). • Jared King is in the midst of a 14-game hitting streak, the longest active streak in the Big 12. • Tanner Witt ranks second in the Big 12 with 19 multi-hit games, while Ross Kivett is third with 18. • Freshman hurlers Jake Matthys and Levi MaVorhis are a combined 9-0 with three saves.
GOOD STRETCH OF BASEBALL K-State is playing perhaps its best baseball in some time as the Wildcats are in a groove both at the plate and on the mound despite a series loss at Oklahoma State last weekend. During the first 20 games of the year in which K-State went 12-8, the Cats hit .310, scored 6.3 runs per game and held a 4.11 team ERA. During that stretch, the bullpen held a 3-1 record despite a somewhat high 4.87 ERA.
Fast forward 21 games later as K-State has gone 16-5 thanks in part to a batting average that is 40 points higher (.350), a runs-per-game average that is a half run better (6.8) and a much lower ERA (3.55). The team ERA during the last 21 games has been helped out in large part by the bullpen, which holds an 9-2 record and a 2.87 ERA.
NON-CON DOMINANCE Kansas State, which has just two regular-season non-conference games remaining this year, is looking to cap its continued outstanding success in those contests. K-State, which is 21-8 against non-league competition this year, is currently 226-87 (.722) under head coach Brad Hill, including a 117-49 (.705) mark over the last four-plus seasons. In regular season non-conference games, the Cats have been even tougher as they are 215-71 (.752) over the last nine-plus years and 109-39 (.736) from 2009-13.
LEARNING TO WIN ON THE ROAD If Kansas State’s goal of reaching a NCAA Regional for the fourth time in the last five years is to come true, the Wildcats must learn how to win on the road. K-State, which is 5-7 in true road games and 8-8 in games away from Tointon Family Stadium, is finishing off an eight-game road trip and have only six home games remaining. The Cats, who are at Creighton next Tuesday, have road series remaining at Texas and Kansas prior to the Big 12 Championship. In the three NCAA Regional seasons of 2009, 2010 and 2011, K-State had at least 13 wins away from Manhattan, including 19 in 2009. In the other six years under head coach Brad Hill, K-State had more than 11 wins away from home just once (15 in 2007).
NEBRASKA AT A GLANCE Nebraska enters the midweek contest on fire both offensively and on the mound after earning a sweep at Purdue. The Huskers, who outscored the Boilermakers 32-8 in the series, have won five-straight games and 13 of their last 19 to sit at 19-19 overall and 11-4 in Big Ten play as they have the most league wins in the conference.
The Huskers, who have raised their team batting average 14 points since their last meeting with K-State, are now hitting .285. Nebraska is led offensively by senior outfielder Chad Christensen at .389 with five doubles, two triples, two home runs and 25 RBI. He also paces the squad with eight steals in nine attempts. Behind Christensen at .342 is junior Michael Pritchard with a team-high tying eight doubles and 12 RBI. Rich Sanguinetti is hitting .294, while Kash Kalkowski is at .293 with eight doubles and a team-high 28 RBI. Tying Christensen for team-high honors in home runs is Austin Darby, one of which came against Kansas State.
Nebraska is expected to start right-hander Brandon Pierce Wednesday night. The junior holds a 1-3 record and a 5.20 ERA in nine games this year, including seven starts. Pierce as surrendered 21 earned runs on 44 hits in 36.1 innings with 20 walks and 19 strikeouts. His last start came in the second game of a doubleheader last Tuesday against Arkansas when he allowed a run on three hits with four walks in five innings of a game the Huskers eventual won, 4-2. In his career against Kansas State, Pierce holds a 1-0 record in three appearances, including one start. The right-hander has not allowed an earned run on four hits with three walks and two strikeouts in 3.2 innings.
The Husker bullpen is led by senior right-hander Dylan Vogt, who is 1-2 with a 2.38 ERA in a team-high 18 appearances. Vogt leads the team with six saves and has surrendered only nine earned runs in 34 innings with nine walks and 15 strikeouts.
THE NEBRASKA SERIES Nebraska leads the all-time series against Kansas State, 166-108, including an 87-38 mark in Lincoln. However, the Wildcats have already won the season series and are looking for their second season sweep of the Huskers in the last four years. Kansas State won a close 10-8 contest on March 26, coming back from three-run deficit as the Cats scored eight runs over the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. A week later, Tanner Witt went 5-for-5 with a home run and four RBI as K-State picked up a 9-1 victory. The Wildcats in search of their first win in Lincoln in four tries.
Witt, who is 6-for-10 with one double, a triple, a home run and five RBI against NU this year, holds a stellar .429 (12-for-28) career batting average against the Huskers. Jon Davis is 2-for-2 with four walks, two hit-by-pitches, four runs scored and two RBI in two games this year, while Jared King is 4-for-6 with a pair of doubles and RBI. Wednesday’s starting pitcher Jake Doller holds a career 1-0 record and a 2.53 ERA after allowing two runs on three hits in 3.2 innings of a start on March 26.
HIT PARADE Kansas State is having one of its better years at the plate in terms of both batting average and total hits. The Wildcats lead the nation entering the week with a .331 batting average, five points better than second-place Georgia State. Even more impressive is the fact that the Wildcats do not have an individual ranked in the top 100 nationally as all eight of the Wildcats’ everyday starters are hitting between .320 and .364. Kansas State’s average is also an astonishing 36 points better than any other Big 12 team.
The Wildcats rank fourth nationally in hits at 468 and lead the Big 12 by 60 in that department. At its current pace of 11.4 hits per game, Kansas State is on pace for 649 during the regular season, a mark that would rank fourth in school history. In 41 games this season, the Wildcats have reached the 10-hit mark on 30 occasions, equaling last year’s total in 58 games.
FINISHING OFF INNINGS The Wildcats have been outstanding when it comes to hits and getting men on base, but Kansas State is still searching for clutch base hits on a consistent basis. K-State has averaged 8.3 runners left on base this season, including 16 games stranding 10 or more runners. The Wildcats left 11 runners on base last Tuesday against Wichita State and 10 in each of the first two games at Oklahoma State. Even further, the Wildcats rank just 35th nationally in runs scored (267) despite ranking first in the nation in batting average, fourth in hits and 12th in on-base percentage.
BULLPEN STEPS UP Kansas State’s bullpen has been outstanding over the last 21 games in which the Wildcats have earned a 16-5 record. The K-State relievers are 9-2 with a 2.87 ERA during that stretch, allowing 29 earned runs over 91.0 innings while holding a stellar 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (65 strikeouts, 21 walks). Leading the charge during that stretch is freshman Jake Matthys and a pair of juniors in Gerardo Esquivel and Jared Moore. Matthys has four of his six wins and two of his three saves during the last 21 games, holding a 0.54 ERA during that span. Esquivel has surrendered only four earned runs in 12 innings, while Moore is 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA.
MATTHYS MUSCLES UP Freshman right-hander Jake Matthys has been nothing short of spectacular out of the Wildcat bullpen this season. The Spring Lake Park, Minn., product holds a 6-0 record and a 1.35 ERA with three saves in a team-high 18 appearances. His six victories are the most by a K-State relief pitcher in the Big 12 era, while he is one win away from tying the overall Kansas State freshman record for wins.
Matthys, who has surrendered runs in only two outings (March 8 vs. Cal Poly and March 30 at Baylor), earned Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors after a save and a win. Following a save Tuesday night at Wichita State, the right-hander tossed a career-long 4.1 scoreless innings with no walks and three strikeouts in a 3-2 victory at No. 27 Oklahoma State on Sunday.
UNLIKELY HOME RUN LEADER Redshirt sophomore Shane Conlon entered the 2013 season with just nine hits to his credit, only one of which went for extra bases. After being used as both a first baseman and pitcher in 2011 and exclusively as a pitcher in 2012 before an injury cut his season short, no one would have expected the Naperville, Ill., product to lead Kansas State in home runs. But Conlon has proved his doubters wrong as he leads the team and ranks third in the Big 12 with seven. Conlon also ranks second in the Big 12 in total bases (84) and fifth in slugging percentage (.528).
KING HEATING UP Battling injuries through the first part of his junior campaign, outfielder Jared King has been one of K-State’s hottest hitters since the calendar turned to April. During that stretch in which K-State is 10-3, King is hitting .455 (20-for-44) with three doubles, one triple, four home runs and 15 RBI. King, who missed one of those games due to an injury, holds an .841 slugging percentage and a .547 on-base percentage in his last 12 games, while he is 6-for-8 in stolen-base attempts during that stretch. King, who set a career high with three stolen bases in the series finale at Iowa, has been on a home-run tear lately with three in his last five games.
SOLID SOPHOMORE SEASON Shortstop Austin Fisher has taken a leap from his freshman season as he is hitting .343 overall, including a .422 mark in Big 12 play to rank fourth in the conference. Fisher, who is second in the league with 14 doubles this year, was the lone player from the Big 12 and one of 25 players nationally named to the Brooks Wallace Award watch list, which honors the nation’s top shortstop. Fisher is the third Wildcat since 2009 to be up for the award, following in the footsteps of Drew Biery (2009) and Carter Jurica (2010).
Fisher is tied for second on the team with 26 RBI this season, including a team-leading 13 two-out RBI. His RBI total is impressive considering he hit ninth in the batting order over the first 13 games. In fact, Fisher held a streak of seven-straight games with a RBI from March 2 to March 8, which ranked fourth overall and was the top mark by a No. 9 hitter in the last 10 years.
TWICE AS NICE Coming into the 2013 campaign with only five five-plus hit games under head coach Brad Hill, the Wildcats have tallied two this year to mark the first time in the last 10 years K-State has recorded more than one in a season. Shane Conlon went 5-for-5 with a home run and two RBI on February 21 against No. 8 Kentucky, while Tanner Witt had a career night at the plate on April 2 against Nebraska by going 5-for-5 with a double, a homer and four RBI. Overall, Kansas State has produced 134 multi-hit games this season and are on pace for 180 during the regular season, a number that would be the third-best mark in the last 10 years.
IT’S NOT HOW YOU START... As the adage says, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” K-State has proven that saying to be true so far this season as opponents have scored the game’s first run in nearly half of the Wildcats’ 28 wins. Kansas State, which is 12-6 in games where its opponent scores first, has already surpassed last year’s win total in those contests. In head coach Brad Hill’s 10 years in Manhattan, K-State has been .500 or better just twice when its opponent scores first as the 2009 squad went 18-10 (.643) and the 2010 team was 13-13 (.500). Since 2004, Kansas State has gone 116-157 (.425) when its opponent scores first, including a 64-67 (.489) mark since 2009.
FIVE FORMER WILDCATS START 2013 IN TRIPLE-A Five former K-State players began 2013 in Triple-A as veterans Carlos Torres (2004) and Jared Goedert (2005-06) are back at the highest minor-league level, while Carter Jurica (2008-10), Nate Tenbrink (2006-08) and Evan Marshall (2009-11) are seeing their first-career Triple-A action. Torres, who threw for the Colorado Rockies last season, signed with the New York Mets during the offseason and holds a 0-1 record with a 4.61 ERA in four starts for the Las Vegas 51s. Goedert, who was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 2006, signed with Pittsburgh in the offseason and is playing for Indianapolis, going 10-for-42 (.238) with five doubles, one home run and five RBI in his first 15 games.
Jurica is on fire for the Fresno Grizzlies (San Francisco) as he enters play Tuesday hitting .344 (21-for-61) with six doubles, a home run and six RBI. Playing for the Tacoma Rainers (Seattle), Tenbrink is hitting .250 (17-for-68), while Marshall, a relief pitcher for the Reno Aces (Arizona), is 1-1 with a save.