AUSTIN, Texas - With the 2013 season coming down to the final three weekends of action, Kansas State will travel to Austin, Texas, for the first of two-straight Big 12 road series beginning with a three-game set at Texas, Friday through Sunday, at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. The Wildcats are looking to win their first game in Austin since 2009, a year the Wildcats won the series, 2-0-1. The series gets underway Friday with a 6:35 p.m., first pitch, while Saturday’s game is slated for 2 p.m., and Sunday’s finale is scheduled for 1 p.m.
All three games can be heard in the Manhattan area on SportsRadio 1350 KMAN with Brian Smoller and Ryan Lackey on the call. Free live audio is also available online at www.k-statesports.com and www.1350kman.com. All three games can be seen on the Longhorn Network with Kevin Dunn and Danny Graves calling the action.
K-STATE AT A GLANCE After finishing non-conference play Tuesday night with a 6-3 win at Creighton, Kansas State enters the final three weekends of Big 12 play with a 34-14 record overall and a 9-6 mark in conference action to sit in a tie for third place. After weathering a rain delay Tuesday night in which the Wildcats led, 3-1, K-State came out on fire with two runs in the eighth and one more in the ninth before hanging on in the bottom half for a three-run victory.
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 .248 against a very-talented TCU pitching staff and at Creighton, K-State still ranks third nationally in batting average at .326, a mark that is the best in the Big 12 by 32 points. K-State’s 514 hits also rank fourth nationally and pace the league by 69.
The Wildcats do not have an individual ranked highly in the national rankings, but its team batting average is high due to the fact that each of the eight regular starters are hitting between .327 and .366. Five Wildcats rank in the top-10 of the Big 12 as Ross Kivett is fourth (.366), Austin Fisher is sixth (.356), Tanner Witt is seventh (.349), Jared King is ninth (.342) and Shane Conlon is 10th (.339).
For the second-straight week, Kansas State will use a rotation full of right-handers in Levi MaVorhis on Friday, Matt Wivinis Saturday and Blake McFadden on Sunday. In his first-career start against TCU, MaVorhis tossed 5.1 scoreless innings as he worked around eight hits, four of which did not leave the infield. The freshman had worked 16 games out of the bullpen prior to the start last week. MaVorhis, a product of Freeland, Wash., holds a perfect 4-0 record and a 3.00 ERA with six walks and 20 strikeouts in 33 innings. Wivinis, who started Tuesday-night’s game at Creighton, has been on a pitch count in each of his last two starts. Against the Horned Frogs last Saturday, Wivinis allowed a run over his scheduled three innings with no walks and three strikeouts as K-State scored runs in the first two innings and held on for a 2-1 victory. The win pushed Wivinis’ record to 6-1, while he lowered his ERA to 4.43 following Tuesday’s performance in which he threw three scoreless innings in Omaha.
McFadden, who made his fourth-straight weekend start against TCU, will be looking to rebound from his second loss of the season when he surrendered three runs on four hits in 2.1 innings. A high school All-American last year, McFadden is 4-2 with a 4.17 ERA, 10 walks and 29 strikeouts in 41 innings. DID YOU KNOW • Kansas State leads the Big 12 in nine offensive categories, including batting average (.326), hits (514) and runs (296). • The Wildcats are two games above .500 in program history at 1,692-1,690-10. It is the first time the program record at least two games above the .500 mark since March 16, 1992. • Austin Fisher is in the midst of a career-long 11-game hitting streak in which he is hitting 19-for-38 (.500) with two doubles and three RBI. • Kansas State’s top five freshmen pitchers in terms of appearances have combined to go 16-2 with five saves, a 3.40 ERA and a 2.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio (90 strikeouts, 41 walks). Leading the charge is Jake Matthys (6-0, 1.39 ERA) and Levi MaVorhis (4-0, 3.00 ERA).
FINISHING OFF APRIL Kansas State played some of its best baseball in the month of April in program history this season. A month that always features multiple conference series, the Wildcats accumulated 14 wins last month, including six in Big 12 play. The 14 wins were tied for the fourth-most in the month in school history. Additionally, the Wildcats produced the most wins in April since 1990 (16). K-State had its best winning percentage in the month of April in school history at .778, bettering a .735 (12-4-1) mark in 2009, a team that set the school record for wins with 43. AHEAD OF THE CURVE K-State holds a 9-6 mark in Big 12 play through five series to sit in a tie for third place in the conference standings, a game behind league-leader Oklahoma and percentage points behind second-place Baylor. The Wildcats have run past last year’s Big 12 win total of seven, while they could hit the 10-win mark in league play this weekend for the sixth time in seven years. In fact, K-State’s 9-6 start in its first 15 conference games is tied for the best mark by the Wildcats in the Big 12 era. The 2009 team, which went to K-State’s first-ever NCAA Regional, was 8-7, while the 2010 squad was 9-6 and the 2011 club went 5-10.
Something K-State will need to do this year is learn to win on the road in Big 12 play as the Cats won just four of their 12 league road games last year. K-State has lost both of its road Big 12 series this year (Baylor and Oklahoma) and has a road trip to Kansas remaining in 2013. 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 7-7 in true road games and 10-8 in games away from Tointon Family Stadium, plays six of its last nine games on the road - all against Big 12 foes. Following this weekend’s set at Texas, the Cats have road series remaining at Kansas prior to finishing the year at home against Oklahoma. 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).
TEXAS AT A GLANCE Sitting at 23-20 overall and 5-13 in Big 12 play, Texas enters the series on the heels of a 1-0 victory over Prairie View A&M Tuesday. The Longhorns were swept at Baylor last week by scores of 6-2, 1-0 and 5-2, while they lost two-of-three the weekend prior at home to West Virginia.
Texas, which is hitting .257 as a team, is led by junior outfielder Mark Payton at .379 with a team-high 11 doubles, six triples, and 22 RBI. Another junior, infielder Erich Weiss, is also hitting above .300 at .309 with five doubles, three triples, one homer and 21 RBI. C.J. Hinojosa, a freshman infielder, leads the team with 25 RBI as he is hitting a shade below .300 at .298. Freshman outfielder Ben Johnson leads the team with three home runs, but only has nine RBI.
Texas is slated to start right-hander Parker French on Friday, left-hander Dillon Peters Saturday and righty Nathan Thornhill on Sunday. All three pitchers have started at least 10 games and thrown at least 60 innings this year. French, a sophomore, holds a 3-4 record and a 2.51 ERA in 10 starts. He has allowed 17 earned runs on 56 hits in 61 innings with 17 walks and 37 strikeouts. Peters, a sophomore, holds a 4-3 record and a stellar 1.75 ERA in 11 starts as he leads the team with 72 innings pitched. Peters has thrown one complete game and been a part of two Longhorn shutouts while striking out 43 batters as opposed to 20 walks. Thornhill, a junior, is 2-5 this year while holding a solid 2.54 ERA in 11 starts. Thornhill, who has tossed one complete game, has pitched 67.1 innings with 11 walks and 49 strikeouts.
All three pitchers suffered tough-luck losses last weekend at Baylor. French surrendered only three runs (one earned) on nine hits in five innings, while French allowed only a run over seven innings with three walks and five strikeouts. Thornhill was also solid in 6.1 innings, giving up three runs (two earned) with a walk and three strikeouts.
A pair of Texas relievers, right-hander Corey Knebel and lefty Travis Duke, lead the team with 24 and 23 appearances, respectively. Knebel, who has eight saves, holds a 3-3 record and a 2.68 ERA while striking out 46 batters and walking only 14. Duke has won all four decisions this year with a 0.58 ERA, allowing nine runs (two earned) with nine walks and 22 strikeouts.
THE TEXAS SERIES Texas leads the all-time series against Kansas State, 44-12-1, including a 23-7-1 mark in Austin. The Wildcats have won just two of the last 10 meetings after winning the series at Texas, 2-0-1, in 2009. Additionally, the Wildcats have only won three series all-time against UT (1997, 1998 and 2009), two of which have come in Austin. The Longhorns won a game at the Big 12 Championship in 2009 before winning the final two games of the 2010 series to take the three-game set. Texas swept the last meeting in Austin by close margins of 3-0, 4-3 (10) and 6-5 (14) prior to winning the final two games to claim the series in Manhattan again in 2012. All three games last year were also close as K-State won the series opener, 5-2, before falling 6-4 in 11 innings and 8-5 in the finale.
Following a 5-for-11 performance last season, Jared King holds the top overall batting average against Texas with a career .304 mark. The outfielder recorded a triple and drove in three runs last year while also working four walks. Shane Conlon hit well against the Longhorns as a freshman in 2011 as he went 3-for-7, while Joe Flattery was tough against the Texas hitters last year by working around five hits in five scoreless innings with no walks and six strikeouts in a start.
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 26 games later as K-State has gone 20-6 thanks in part to a batting average that is 28 points higher (.338) and a lower ERA (3.64). The team ERA during has been helped out in large part by the bullpen, which holds a 11-2 record and a 3.07 ERA over that stretch. 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 .326, just four points behind NCAA-leader New Mexico. Even more impressive is the fact that K-State does not have an individual ranked in the top 80 nationally as all eight of the Wildcats’ everyday starters are hitting .327 or better. Kansas State’s average is also an impressive 32 points better than any other Big 12 team.
The Wildcats rank fourth nationally in hits at 514 and lead the Big 12 by 69 in that department. At its current pace of 11.2 hits per game, Kansas State is on pace for 615 during the regular season, a mark that would rank sixth in school history. In 46 games this season, the Wildcats have reached the 10-hit mark on 32 occasions, which is already two more than last year.
TRIPLING AT A TORRID PACE K-State has hit a Big 12-leading 23 triples this season, a mark that is tied for sixth in school history and the most since the 1997 squad had 30. The Wildcats could reasonly move into third place by the end of the regular season as it is four away from a tie for third. Six different Wildcats - Ross Kivett, Austin Fisher, Tanner Witt, Shane Conlon, Jon Davis and Mitch Meyer - have recorded a team-leading three triples, which is tied for sixth in the Big 12. Kivett recorded two Tuesday at Creighton, the most by a Wildcat in a single game since Josh Cavender also had two against Howard on April 15, 2001. BULLPEN STEPS UP Kansas State’s bullpen has been outstanding over the last 26 games in which the Wildcats have earned a 20-6 record. The K-State relievers are 11-2 with a 3.07 ERA during that stretch, allowing 41 earned runs over 120.1 innings while holding nearly a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (87 strikeouts, 31 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 26 games, holding a 0.81 ERA during that span. Since moving to the bullpen last week, left-hander Joe Flattery has allowed just one run in six innings with a walk and six strikeouts. Although it is a small sample size, Flattery’s 1.3 walks-per-nine innings ratio as a relief pitcher is by far better than the 2.6 mark he held as a starter. 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 1.39 ERA with four saves in a team-high 22 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. SOLID SOPHOMORE SEASON Shortstop Austin Fisher has taken a leap from his freshman season as he is hitting .356 overall, including a .436 mark in Big 12 play to lead the conference. Fisher, who is tied for third 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 and has hit anywhere in the lineup between cleanup and ninth. 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.
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. During the month of April in which K-State went 14-4, King hit .391 (25-for-64) with five doubles, one triple, four home runs and 21 RBI. King, who missed one of those games due to an injury, held a .688 slugging percentage and a .467 on-base percentage during the month, while he went 7-for-9 in stolen-base attempts during that stretch.
King’s solid month of April shot the junior up the Big 12 statistical rankings as he ranks in the top-10 in eight categories, including top-five marks in slugging percentage (3rd; .557), RBI (3rd; 40) total bases (t3rd; 88) and home runs (t5th; 6). 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’ 32 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 Thursday hitting .348, 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).