MANHATTAN, Kan. - Winners of 10 of its last 12, No. 18 Kansas State hosts the 19th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners, Friday through Sunday, at Tointon Family Stadium with Big 12 regular-season championship aspirations on the line for both teams. The Wildcats enter the weekend with a chance to clinch a share of the regular-season title with one win and claim the outright title with a series victory. However, Oklahoma controls its own destiny as well as the Sooners can earn its first-ever Big 12 Championship with a series sweep. The games on Friday and Saturday begin with a 6:30 p.m., first pitch, while Sunday's regular-season finale is slated for 1 p.m.
The entire series will be televised to either a statewide or national audience with Friday's game being shown throughout the state on Cox Communications' Kansas 22 and in the Kansas City area on MetroSports. The final two games of the series can be seen nationally on Fox College Sports Central. Brian Smoller will handle play-by-play duties for all three games, while former K-State head coach Mike Clark will serve as the color analyst on Friday and former Wildcat All-American Craig Wilson will take over on Saturday and Sunday.
The K-State Sports Network will have radio coverage Friday night with Wyatt Thompson and Matt Walters on the call, while the final two contests can be heard on SportsRadio 1350 KMAN. Free live audio of the entire series is available online at www.k-statesports.com.
PROMOTIONS ON TAP THIS WEEKEND K-State Athletics has multiple promotions and ticket discounts this weekend. Friday is "Mustache Night" as the first 2,000 fans into the stadium will receive a free stick-on mustache. In addition, season-ticket holders and those with a graduation program can receive a general admission bench ticket for $3. The same ticket promotion for graduation applies on Saturday, while Sunday is Senior Day as K-State will recognize its four seniors, Jon Davis, Jake Doller, Joe Flattery and Tanner Witt. Sunday is also a Family Day with Wildcat 4 Packs available for $30 that include four general admission bench tickets and four concession vouchers, while all kids can run the bases after the game. Fans can purchase tickets online at www.k-statesports.com/tickets or at the Tointon Family Stadium box office beginning 60 minutes prior to first pitch each day.
K-STATE AT A GLANCE Entering the series with a 37-15 overall record and a 14-7 mark in Big 12 play, Kansas State cracked the top 25 in four polls this past Monday, ranking as high as 18th by Collegiate Baseball. The Wildcats had received votes in various polls for six-straight weeks, but burst on to the scene following their three-game sweep against in-state rival Kansas in Lawrence. The sweep marked the first on the road in Big 12 play since 2009 (Nebraska) while it was the first at KU since 1999 as the teams split home games each year from 2001 to 2011.
On Friday, the Wildcats used the pitching of freshmen Levi MaVorhis and Jake Matthys, who combined for 8.1 solid innings, and the offense produced just enough runs to edge KU, 4-3. Saturday saw the Jayhawks build was looked to be an insurmountable 6-0 lead through three innings, but the K-State came to life beginning in the fourth as it scored nine unanswered runs to close out the game with a 9-6 victory. Austin Fisher provided the game-winning two-run homer in the ninth inning to break a 6-6 tie, while Mitch Meyer - who hit two homers in the series - added a solo shot two batters later. On Sunday, K-State jumped out to a 5-1 lead and never looked back en route to a 7-3 series-clinching win.
Still leading the Big 12 by a wide margin in both batting average and hits, the Wildcats rank fourth (.323) and eighth (541) nationally in those categories, respectively. The batting average ranking is impressive considering the Wildcats do not have an individual ranked in the top 110 nationally. However, four Wildcats are within the top 10 of the Big 12 in batting average, led by Fisher's .358 mark to rank fourth. Fisher, who is also tied for first in doubles with 18, leads teammate Ross Kivett by 47 points with the Big 12's best conference-only batting average of .415. Kivett is fifth overall at .354, while Shane Conlon is eighth at .340 and RJ Santigate is 10th at .335.
The Wildcats will make a small change to its starting rotation this weekend as freshmen right-handers MaVorhis and Blake McFadden continue to get the call on Friday and Sunday, respectively, while senior left-hander Joe Flattery has been reinserted into the rotation on Saturday. MaVorhis holds a 5-0 record and a 2.91 ERA in 19 games this year, but the Freeland, Wash., product has been even better as he starter as he is 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA. MaVorhis has lasted at least five innings and surrendered two or less runs in each of his three starts, including last weekend at KU when he earned the win after allowing a run in 5.1 innings. Flattery, who was 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA in six relief outings, will be making his first start since April 19 at Oklahoma State. McFadden, who is 5-2 with a 3.93 ERA in 14 outings, has been solid as a weekend starter each of the last six weeks. The freshman earned the win at Kansas by allowing just two runs on three hits in five innings. DID YOU KNOW Kansas State leads the Big 12 in eight offensive categories, including batting average (.321), hits (572) and runs (331). Austin Fisher is in the midst of a career-long and Big 12-leading 17-game hitting streak in which he is hitting 29-for-65 (.446) with five doubles, one home run, nine RBI, 11 runs scored and a .500 on-base percentage. Tanner Witt, who ranks in the top 10 of five K-State career categories, is one of the top five active players in the Big 12 in walks (102; 2nd), steals (43; 2nd), runs (136; 2nd), games played (199; 3rd) and at-bats (666; 4th). Kansas State's top six freshmen pitchers in terms of appearances have combined to go 19-2 with seven saves, a 3.22 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of over 2.0 (109 strikeouts, 51 walks). Leading the charge is Jake Matthys (7-0, 1.77 ERA) and Levi MaVorhis (5-0, 2.91 ERA).
ON THE BRINK OF HISTORY Entering the weekend in need of one win to clinch a share of the Big 12 regular-season title and two victories to win it outright, K-State is on the brink of winning its first-ever Big 12 Championship and only its fourth conference championship in school history. The last conference championship the Wildcats claimed was in 1933 when K-State tied for first in the Big Six. Three years prior in 1930, the then-known Kansas State Agricultural College "Aggies" tied for first in the Big Six standings, while it won the Missouri Valley Conference Championship outright in 1928.
In addition, the 2013 Wildcats have tied the school record for conference victories with the 2009 and 2010 clubs that went 14-11-1 and 14-12, respectively. K-State's overall win total of 37 entering the weekend is tied for second in school history and is six shy of the school-record 43-win season of 2009. OKLAHOMA AT A GLANCE Oklahoma enters the final weekend of regular-season play with a 35-17 record and a 12-9 mark in Big 12 play. The Sooners are in search of a sweep of K-State to capture their first Big 12 regular-season title. OU fell in its home finale Tuesday night to Dallas Baptist, 6-4, while the Sooners lost two-of-three in the Bedlam Series against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys took the first two games by identical scores of 4-3, but Oklahoma salvaged the finale with a 5-4 victory.
The Sooners rank third in the Big 12 with a .287 average and are led by the league's top hitter in junior Matt Oberste. The former community-college transfer is hitting an even .400 with team highs in doubles (18), triples (4), home runs (10) and RBI (50). Aside from average, Oberste also paces the conference in hits (80), RBI, total bases (136) and slugging percentage (.680) thanks in large part to a 30-game hitting streak to begin the season. Senior Max White is the other Sooner hitting over .300 at .308 with 10 doubles, three homers and 27 RBI. Reigning Big 12 Newcomer of the Week Hector Lorenzana is at .276 and is second on the team with 11 doubles.
Oklahoma is expected to start right-hander Jonathan Gray on Friday night and left-hander Dillon Overton on Saturday, while the Sooners have not announced a Sunday starter. Gray, a junior, is 8-2 with a 1.43 ERA in 13 starts, allowing 15 earned runs in 94.2 innings with 19 walks and a Big12-leading 112 strikeouts. Last week against Oklahoma State, Gray allowed three runs over five innings on six hits with three walks and eight strikeouts. Overton, who missed two starts, also holds an 8-2 record with a 2.87 ERA in 12 games, including 11 starts. In 75.1 innings, the junior has surrendered 24 earned runs with 17 walks and 69 strikeouts, which ranks fifth in the Big 12. Coming off an injury, Overton gave up four runs on eight hits with a walk and three strikeouts in four innings last week against OSU.
Although OU has not announced a starting pitcher for Sunday, it could be left-hander Jake Fisher, who has started each of the last three weeks. The senior is 1-2 with a 2.15 ERA after allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits in 4.2 innings last week. The Sooner bullpen is led by freshman left-hander Jacob Evans, who is 6-1 with a 1.42 ERA and nine saves.
THE OKLAHOMA SERIES After taking two-of-three in 2012, Oklahoma leads the all-time series against Kansas State, 184-72-1, including a 35-13 mark in Big 12 play and an 80-45 record in Manhattan. Kansas State won the season series in Manhattan in 2011 and swept a pair of games later that year in the Big 12 Championship. The Wildcats looked to be on their way to another series win last season over the 24th-ranked Sooners when K-State led the rubber match, 3-2, entering the ninth inning, but Oklahoma scored two runs for a walk-off series victory.
Ross Kivett leads the team with a .409 (9-for-22) career batting average against Oklahoma, thanks to an 8-for-14 (.571) effort in four games against the Sooners his freshman year. Jared King is hitting .364 (8-for-22), while last year's series served as the breakout party for the career of Jon Davis as he went 5-for-8 with three doubles in two games.
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE Kansas State is looking to make the home-field advantage it has created this season last into the final regular-season weekend. The Wildcats, who are 22-6 at home in 2013, have been difficult to defeat on their home turf over the last few years. Kansas State has won at least 20 home games in six of the last nine seasons, while it is 107-39 (.733) at home over the last four-plus years. In Big 12 play, Kansas State is 7-2 at home this season with its only losses coming against West Virginia to open Big 12 play and in the series finale against TCU. The Wildcats have not played at home since the final game of the TCU series on April 28.
HIGH-OCTANE OFFENSE K-State is having one of its better years at the plate in terms of both batting average and total hits. The Wildcats rank fourth nationally in batting average at .321, and even more impressive is the fact that K-State does not have an individual ranked in the top 110 nationally as all eight of the Wildcats' everyday starters are hitting .318 or better. K-State's average is also 30 points better than any other Big 12 team.
The Wildcats rank eighth nationally in hits at 572, while they lead the Big 12 by 64 in that department. The Wildcats' season total is tied for ninth in school history, and they can move into sixth place this weekend if they continue their pace of 11 hits per game.
PITCHING MOVE PAYING OFF Prior to the series against TCU, Kansas State made a change to its starting rotation as Levi MaVorhis has earned the last three Friday starts while former starters Nate Williams and Joe Flattery have worked exclusively out of the bullpen, primarily on Saturdays. So far, the returns of that decision have been positive for the entire pitching staff as the Wildcats have held a 2.93 ERA with 28 walks and 55 strikeouts in the last 10 games, holding an 8-2 record during that stretch. In his first three career starts, MaVorhis is 2-0 and has allowed only three earned runs in 15.2 innings, which is good for a 1.72 ERA. Williams is 1-0 and has not allowed a run over eight innings with three walks and 10 strikeouts. Flattery holds a 1-0 record and a 1.86 ERA with two walks and seven strikeouts. The move to the bullpen has seemed to work for Flattery, giving him confidence before moving back into the starting rotation this weekend. STOUT BULLPEN Kansas State's bullpen has been outstanding this season as it holds a 17-3 record and a 3.44 ERA. The 17 victories by the relievers this year are the most under head coach Brad Hill - one more than the 2011 squad - while the winning percentage of .850 is by far the best in the last 10 years as it is 168 points better than the 2007 and 2010 clubs that held a .682 winning percentage (15-7).
The bullpen has been led by a bevy of freshmen as Jake Matthys, Jordan Witcig, Levi MaVorhis, Hayden Nixon, Landon Busch and Blake McFadden have combined for a 12-0 record and a 2.85 ERA out of the bullpen while limiting opponents to just a .241 batting average. MaVorhis and McFadden are now in the weekend rotation, giving Witcig more opportunities to pitch out of the bullpen. TRIPLING AT A TORRID PACE K-State has hit a Big 12-leading 27 triples this season, a mark that is tied for third in school history and is the most since the 1997 squad had 30. Eight Wildcats have two or more triples this year, led by Mitch Meyer with five. Ross Kivett, who has 10 career triples to tie for 10th in school history, has four this season thanks to three over a two-game stretch at Creighton and Texas. His two-triple performance in Omaha was the first by a Wildcat since Josh Cavender against Howard on April 15, 2001. SOLID SOPHOMORE SEASON Shortstop Austin Fisher has taken a leap from his freshman season as he is hitting a team-leading .358, including a Big 12-best .415 in conference-only games, while he enters this weekend's series riding a career-long 17-game hitting streak. Fisher, who is tied for first in the league with 18 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 has provided game-changing hits throughout the entire season as he leads the team in two-out RBI (15) and is second in game-winning RBI in the fifth inning or later. His latest came last Saturday at Kansas when he hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth to break a 6-6 tie as the Wildcats scored nine answered runs to win, 9-6. A FLAIR FOR THE DRAMATIC Junior Ross Kivett has come through time and time again in crucial situations for K-State throughout his career. Kivett's two-run triple into the right-field corner in the opener at Texas was Kivett's sixth-career game-winning hit in the eighth inning or later. It also marked his second game-winning two-run triple as he began the 2012 season with a shot into the right-center field gap as K-State won at CSU Bakersfield, 7-5, in 11 innings.
Kivett's clutch hitting began during his freshman season of 2011 when he hit a walk-off single against Kansas before a game-winning single five days later vs. No. 12 Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship. In addition, Kivett has two other game-winning hits when the Wildcats are either tied or trailing entering the fifth inning or later. 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 7-0 record and a 1.77 ERA with five saves in a team-high 26 appearances. His seven victories are tied for the K-State freshman record and tied for 10th in school history overall. His seven relief victories are also the most by a K-State pitcher in the Big 12 era, while his 26 relief appearances this season are tied for 10th in school history and second among freshmen. Matthys has seemed to save his best stuff for Big 12 opponents as he is tied for second in the Big 12 in league-only wins and tied for third in conference-only saves with four apiece.
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 over a third of the Wildcats' 37 wins. Kansas State, which is 15-8 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 119-159 (.428) when its opponent scores first, including a 67-69 (.493) 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 hitting just a shade below .300 for the Fresno Grizzlies (San Francisco) as he enters play Thursday at .297, while Tenbrink is hitting .280 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).