How the baseball team is starting to find its footing before Oklahoma home series

Kansas State sophomore Alex Belch swings and misses the pitch, counting as strike two. The K-State baseball team faced off against the TCU Horned Frogs at Tointon Family Stadium on April 19, 2019. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

At the beginning of April, the Kansas State baseball team’s season record was 13-17, and the Wildcats had lost nine of their last 12 games. They looked like a team without an identity.

Then, the team from Omaha came to Manhattan with only six losses under their belts this season, and K-State played its best game of the year. The Wildcats beat Omaha in a commanding fashion 7-2 on April 10, and it only took them two hours to do so.

“It was a really good, clean game, and it helped us [heading] into Texas,” junior Chris Ceballos said at a Wednesday press conference.

The Wildcats then went to Austin, Texas, and upset the then-ranked No. 14 Longhorns by winning two of three weekend games.

“The Texas win, I think that’s what really started everything,” Ceballos said.

The win against Omaha may have been the turning point for the Wildcats’ season. Including Omaha, they have won seven of their last nine games — including a series win against then-ranked No. 19 TCU alongside the Texas series win.

Head coach Pete Hughes said his team has matured and grown to get to the 20-22 overall record they are at right now.

“You have to learn how to play at a different tempo, and you have to learn how to play to win,” Hughes said. “That is what these guys were not doing. The older you get, the more games you play, the more situations you get into and you realize, ‘Hey, when I play at a different level and sense of urgency, I get a different result.’ Sometimes it takes some losses to figure that out.”

Hughes added that failure is often the best teacher to build that culture of winning.

“You have to learn how to fail, unfortunately, to get where you want to go,” Hughes said. “But the message is consistent, enthusiastic and it’s positive, and you have to continually check in with these guys every single day or they will stop believing, and they really need something to believe in when times are bad. It’s a consistent message, and we work hard and we control two things everyday: our attitude and work ethic.”

K-State’s current rating percentage index is at 71, and the Wildcats have increased their RPI by 60 points this season to get themselves ready to enter regionals in postseason play, Hughes said.

“Our goal going forward is to just keep winning series,” Hughes said. “What being in a Power Five conference does for you is it protects you in RPI and it gives you a higher RPI to where [your] record is not as substantial, but your RPI is because your league is so strong. So, if we play well in our league, or league is good enough, yeah, we should be in the conversation. The last two weeks, we have jumped up almost 60 points in the RPI, and anyone who jumps up 60 in the RPI needs to be in the conversation.”

This weekend, the Wildcats have another opportunity to improve their RPI as they host an Oklahoma team with a 28-14 record.

Team members have indicated they are excited to take on the Sooners in front of a sellout crowd at Tointon Family Stadium this weekend with their morale at a season high.

“We’re having fun,” Ceballos said. “Every single practice, every single time we step on the field, it’s been really high energy, and I think if we keep that, it’s going to keep us going for the rest of the season.”

Senior Thomas Hughes showed similar optimism for the rest of the team’s season.

“We are a good team, and we have known that [all season],” Hughes said. “It’s just a matter of putting things together and really playing well together, and I think we have found the match lately. This is the team we knew we could be, and it’s just a matter of everyone playing well at the right time and things coming together, pitchers throwing strikes and we are playing great defense, and that is what is going to win us games.”

The Wildcats will play Oklahoma at home Friday with first pitch scheduled for 6 p.m. The remaining games of the series will be at 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.