MANHATTAN, Kan. - Kansas State will wrap up non-conference play and begin a seven-game road swing by traveling to Omaha, Neb., Tuesday night to face Creighton at TD Ameritrade Park, the home of the College World Series. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m., and the game will be televised in the state of Nebraska on NET (Nebraska Educational Television) and world-wide on www.netnebraska.org with Kevin Kugler and John Bishop on the call. Listeners in the Manhattan area can hear the game on SportsRadio 1350 KMAN with Matt Walters and Ryan Lackey calling the action. Free live audio of the contest is also available online at www.k-statesports.com and www.1350kman.com.
K-STATE AT A GLANCE Coming off a 3-1 week, Kansas State enters its final non-conference game of the season sporting a 31-14 overall record and a 9-6 mark in Big 12 play. After winning a back-and-forth game at Nebraska, 13-10, last Wednesday, the Wildcats began their series against TCU with a pair of victories. On Friday night, Jared King broke open a one-run game with a two-run double in the sixth inning as K-State went on to a 6-1 victory. The next day, four Wildcat pitchers, beginning with Tuesday-night’s starter Matt Wivinis, out-lasted a tough performance by Horned Frog Brandon Finnegan as the Cats scored runs in the first two innings and held on for a 2-1 series-clinching victory. K-State, which was trying to sweep its second-straight Big 12 home series, ran into another solid TCU starting pitcher and the Horned Frog offense came to life for a 5-2 win.
The Wildcats received votes for the sixth-straight week in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches’ Top 25 and the fourth-straight time in the NCBWA poll on Monday. Despite hitting only .242 against a very-talented TCU pitching staff, Kansas State still ranks third nationally in batting average at .327, a mark that is the best in the Big 12 by 29 points. K-State’s 505 hits also rank fourth nationally and pace the league by 63.
K-State’s batting average is high due to the fact that each of the eight regular starters are hitting between .327 and .358. Five Wildcats rank in the top-10 of the Big 12 as Ross Kivett is fifth (.358), Austin Fisher is sixth (.354), Tanner Witt is eighth (.352), King is ninth (.351) and Blair DeBord is 10th (.343). The Wildcats also hold 39 other top-10 rankings in the Big 12 individual statistics.
Wivinis will be making his 12th start of the season, including his first midweek start of the year. He was the front end of four planned pitchers in last Saturday’s ballgame, earning the win in a predetermined pitch-count start of three innings as the sophomore right-hander allowed a run on three hits with no walks and three strikeouts. The win improved Wivinis to 6-1 this year and lowered his ERA to 3.65, while he has issued 14 walks and struck out 42 batters in 60 innings. A win on Tuesday night would tie Wivinis for 10th in school history for single-season wins. DID YOU KNOW • Kansas State leads the Big 12 in seven offensive categories, including batting average (.327), hits (505) and runs (290). • The Wildcats are one game above .500 in program history at 1,691-1,690-10. It is the first time the program record is above the .500 mark since April 10, 1992. • Austin Fisher is in the midst of a career-long 10-game hitting streak in which he is hitting 18-for-35 (.500) with two doubles and three RBI. • Kansas State freshmen pitchers have combined to go 16-2 with five saves, a 3.28 ERA and a 2.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio (81 strikeouts, 32 walks). Leading the charge is Jake Matthys (6-0, 1.44 ERA) and Levi MaVorhis (4-0, 3.00 ERA).
FINISHING OFF APRIL Kansas State is in the midst of its best baseball in the month of April in program history. A month that always features multiple conference series, the Wildcats have accumulated 13 wins this month, including six in Big 12 play. The 13 wins are the sixth-most in school history and a win Tuesday night can tie the 2013 squad for fourth. Additionally, the Wildcats have produced the most wins in April since 1990 (16). K-State is guaranteed to have the best winning percentage in the month of April in school history, bettering a .735 (12-4-1) mark in 2009, a team that set the school record for wins with 43.
NON-CON DOMINANCE The Wildcats are looking to cap their continued outstanding success in non-conference games. K-State, which is 22-8 against non-league competition this year, is currently 227-87 (.723) under head coach Brad Hill, including a 118-49 (.706) mark over the last four-plus seasons. In regular season non-conference games, the Cats have been even tougher as they are 216-71 (.753) over the last nine-plus years and 110-39 (.738) from 2009-13. The Wildcats are looking to sweep the Cornhusker State Tuesday night after winning all three games against Nebraska this year. K-State also has the opportunity to pick up its second-most regular-season non-conference wins under Hill as the 2009 team had 25.
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 6-7 in true road games and 9-8 in games away from Tointon Family Stadium, plays seven of its last 10 games on the road beginning Tuesday night at Creighton. The Cats 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).
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. 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 25 games later as K-State has gone 19-6 thanks in part to a batting average that is 31 points higher (.341) and a lower ERA (3.67). The team ERA during has been helped out in large part by the bullpen, which holds a 10-2 record and a 2.99 ERA over that stretch.
CREIGHTON AT A GLANCE Creighton, which enters the midweek contest with a 24-10 record, is wrapping up an eight-game homestand and a four-game stretch of non-conference games. Last weekend, the Bluejays went 2-1 at the TD Ameritrade Classic as they scored wins against Nebraska (5-3) and Rutgers (4-3, 11 innings) before dropping a close 6-5 decision Sunday night to Oklahoma State. Creighton’s loss to the Cowboys was its first against a Big 12 foe this year as CU has two wins over Kansas.
The Bluejays are hitting a shade over .300 at .302 and are led by sophomore infielder Jake Peter at .381. The Mason City, Iowa, product has seven doubles, three triples, one home run and 27 RBI. Behind Peter at .353 is another infielder in junior Federico Castagnini. Junior outfielder Mike Gerber, who is hitting .328, leads in the squad in triples (6), home runs (4) and RBI (28). Hitting .264, veteran Alex Staehely has a team-high eight doubles, two homers and 25 RBI.
Creighton is expected to start freshman right-hander Taylor Elman Tuesday evening. The Omaha, Neb., product will be making his 10th appearance and second start of the season as he has no record and a 3.65 ERA, allowing five runs on 12 hits with five walks and five strikeouts in 12.1 innings. Elman will be making his first appearance since April 16 against Kansas when he came out of the bullpen to toss two scoreless innings with a walk. His lone start this season came on March 10 against Milwaukee in the Riverview Inn Classic in Clarksville, Tenn., when he surrendered five runs on seven hits with a walk and two strikeouts in 3.1 innings.
Two-way player Jake Peter anchors the Bluejay bullpen as he is 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA and six saves in 12 outings this year. The right-hander has allowed only two runs in 11.2 innings with two walks and 17 strikeouts. Senior Mark Winkelman leads the team with 23 appearances out of the bullpen, holding a 5-0 record and a 3.89 ERA with one save.
THE CREIGHTON SERIES Kansas State holds a 46-37-1 advantage in the all-time series against Creighton, but the Wildcats are looking to snap a three-game overall losing streak to the Bluejays and a three-game skid in Omaha. The Wildcats, who are 10-18 in Omaha, have not defeated Creighton since a 12-1 victory in Manhattan on March 3, 2009, and have not won in Omaha since edging the Bluejays, 5-4, on April 11, 2006.
Due to a rainout last year, K-State and Creighton are meeting for the first time since 2011 when CU won, 7-6, on a ninth-inning bases-loaded walk at the CU Sports Complex. The Wildcats, who are 101-103-1 all-time against Missouri Valley Conference foes after sweeping a two-game set from Wichita State, only have a handful of players that have faced Creighton. Most notably, Tanner Witt, Ross Kivett and Jared King are a combined 1-for-10 against Creighton pitching as the lone hit belongs to Kivett in a pinch-hit appearance three years ago.
HIGH-OCTANE OFFENSE Kansas State is having one of its better years at the plate in terms of both batting average and total hits. The Wildcats rank third nationally in batting average at .327, just one point behind NCAA-leader New Mexico. Even more impressive is the fact that K-State does not have an individual ranked in the top 125 nationally as all eight of the Wildcats’ everyday starters are hitting .327 or better. Kansas State’s average is also an impressive 29 points better than any other Big 12 team.
The Wildcats rank fourth nationally in hits at 505 and lead the Big 12 by 63 in that department. At its current pace of 11.2 hits per game, Kansas State is on pace for 617 during the regular season, a mark that would rank sixth in school history. In 42 games this season, the Wildcats have reached the 10-hit mark on 32 occasions, which is already two more than last year.
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 more consistent basis. K-State has averaged 8.4 runners left on base this season, including 17 games stranding 10 or more runners. The Wildcats rank just 35th nationally in runs scored (290) despite ranking third in the nation in batting average, fourth in hits and 17th in on-base percentage.
BULLPEN STEPS UP Kansas State’s bullpen has been outstanding over the last 25 games in which the Wildcats have earned a 19-6 record. The K-State relievers are 10-2 with a 2.99 ERA during that stretch, allowing 38 earned runs over 114.1 innings while holding nearly a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (83 strikeouts, 30 walks). Leading the charge during that stretch is freshman Jake Matthys, who has four of his six wins and three of his four saves during the last 25 games, holding a 0.84 ERA during that span. Since moving to the bullpen last week, left-hander Joe Flattery has tossed five scoreless innings with three hits a walk and five strikeouts. Tanner Witt also has three of his team-leading six saves during the stretch.
UNPHASED FRESHMAN 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 1.44 ERA with four saves in a team-high 21 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 three outings (March 8 vs. Cal Poly, March 30 at Baylor and April 26 vs. TCU), picked up Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors two weeks ago after a save and a win. Following a save at Wichita State on April 16, 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 in the series finale.
KING FINDS HIS GROOVE After battling injuries through the first part of his junior campaign, outfielder Jared King has begun to show flashes as to why multiple publications picked the Dublin, Ohio, product as the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year. Since the calendar turned to April, King is hitting .417 (25-for-60) with five doubles, one triple, four home runs and 21 RBI. King, who missed one of those games due to an injury, holds a .733 slugging percentage and a .486 on-base percentage in his last 16 games, while he is 6-for-8 in stolen-base attempts during that stretch.
King recent tear has shot the junior up the Big 12 statistical rankings as he ranks in the top-10 in seven categories, including top-five marks in slugging percentage (2nd; .571), total bases (3rd; 88), RBI (3rd; 40) and home runs (t4th; 6).
SOLID SOPHOMORE SEASON Shortstop Austin Fisher has taken a leap from his freshman season as he is hitting .354 overall, including a .436 mark in Big 12 play to lead the conference. Fisher, who is second in the league with 15 doubles this year, was the lone player from the Big 12 and one of 25 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 leads the team with 14 two-out RBI, a mark that is over half of his season total of 27. 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.
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 (94) and fourth in slugging percentage (.540).
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 146 multi-hit games this season and are on pace for 178 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’ 31 wins. Kansas State, which is 13-7 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 117-158 (.425) when its opponent scores first, including a 65-68 (.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 is pitching 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. Jurica is on fire for the Fresno Grizzlies (San Francisco) as he enters play Monday hitting .351, while Tenbrink is playing for the Tacoma Rainiers (Seattle) and Marshall is a relief pitcher for the Reno Aces (Arizona).
In addition to the five in Triple-A, K-State has three former players in Double-A: Justin Bloxom (Harrisburg; Washington), Kyle Hunter (Jackson; Seattle) and A.J. Morris (Tennessee; Chicago NL).