After winning their first conference title in 80 years and hosting the first NCAA Regional in K-State history, the Wildcats traveled to take on Oregon State in a best of three series in June, with the winner jetting off to Omaha, Neb. for the 2013 NCAA Men’s College World Series and the loser going home.
K-State came home to Manhattan.
This Friday marks the first step towards another journey in hopes of an Omaha finish for head coach Brad Hill and his team. The team currently ranks No. 21 in the USA Today preseason Coaches’ Poll, No. 18 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and have picked to finish on top of the Big 12.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Hill said. “Two years ago we finished in almost last place. Last year we finished first, and obviously we only have one championship in 80 years. There’s a long ways to go, but at the same time I want to embrace what that preseason ranking is and I want us to take pride in that, and I think our kids will.”
The good news is that K-State returns a good chunk of one of last year’s best lineups in the country, highlighted by the return of senior Ross Kivett after being drafted in the 10th round of the MLB Draft this summer.
“The family atmosphere here was enough to come back,” Kivett said of his decision to return. “There’s other things in life, like a degree and the fellowship I have with these guys. I’d be pretty sad sitting in a minor league bus seeing my guys go to Omaha.”
The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year will man second base once again for the Wildcats, after batting .360 from the leadoff spot with a .440 on-base percentage, while stealing 26 bases.
Senior first baseman Shane Conlon also elected to return after being drafted this summer, and will once again provide a big bat in the middle of the Wildcat offense after hitting .341 and slugging .502 last year.
Short stop Austin Fisher is back for his junior campaign after leading the team with a .361 batting average, while senior Blair DeBord is back behind the dish with a solid bat and great defense.
While the entire infield returns, K-State lost it’s starting outfield from last year as Jared King was drafted in the fifth round and Tanner Witt and Jon Davis both graduated.
Junior outfielder Mitch Meyer all but locked down one spot with a solid showing last year, slugging .492 in 53 games, but the other two spots will be open to competition during the first few weeks.
K-State’s pitching staff will be highlighted by Big 12 Freshman of the Year Jake Matthys, who will return as the team’s closer after nine saves and a team-best 2.05 ERA last season.
“You have no idea,” said Matthys when asked if he was ready for the season to begin. “It’s been over six months now since I’ve seen a hitter in there with a different jersey on.”
Last year, the Wildcats received incredible contributions from their freshman pitchers, and will need the same this year after season-ending injuries to Matt Wivinis, Blake McFadden, and Nate Williams.
In the rotation, the Wildcats’ Friday starter will by Sophomore Levi MaVorhis, who put up a 5-0 record and a 4.77 ERA in 23 appearances last year, including six starts. Senior left-handed pitcher Jared Moore will likely take another starting spot, and the Sunday starter has yet to be determined.
K-State’s season kicks off on Friday night at 8 p.m. as they travel to take on Cal Poly, who is ranked No. 29 in the NCBWA preseason poll, in
San Luis Obispo, Calif.