Know Your Opponent(s): Baseball travels to Arlington for round-robin opener

Wildcat base runner Cameron Thompson leads off first base in preparation to steal to second. Kansas State baseball capped off the weekend by defeating Oklahoma 8-3 at Tointon Family Stadium on April 18, 2021. (Archive photo by Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State baseball faces 2021 College World Series participant Arizona to open the season at the 2022 State Farm College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas, at Globe Life Field on Friday, Feb. 18.

The early test is part of a trio of non-conference games in a round-robin tournament, with the first pitch set for 3 p.m. on Friday. Then, K-State plays 2019 CWS runner-up Michigan at 11 a.m. on Saturday and SEC opponent Auburn at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.

It’ll be a tough road trip for the Wildcats after retaining only 11 letter winners and welcoming 25 newcomers to the team, including four junior-college transfers, eight Division I transfers and 13 freshmen. However, returning starters feature Preseason All-American Dylan Phillips, 2021 Big 12 Honorable Mention Nick Goodwin and fifth-year senior Terrence Spurlin.

Friday: No. 15 Arizona Wildcats

Coming off a Pac-12 Championship and CWS run, D1Baseball ranks Arizona as the No. 15 team in the country.

Arizona’s lineup highlights a veteran group featuring six players with multiple seasons at the Division I level and an average of about four years of experience in the starting pitching rotation.

The team arguably has the best catcher in the nation, Daniel Susac, who hit for a .335 average with 12 home runs in his true freshman season, and Arizona also starts fourth-year junior Nik McClaughry at shortstop — known for consistency.

A possible hang-up for K-State’s mascot twin, the Arizona Wildcats, is that the veteran lineup actually hasn’t seen much of the field. Before this season, the majority of its lineup claimed supporting roles in the past, and depth could be an issue if debut starters don’t step up to the plate.

New skipper Chip Hale will have his hands full in leading his team where it left off this past season.

Saturday: Michigan Wolverines

With the exception of COVID-19 in 2020, Michigan has finished either second or third in the past four seasons of the Big 10 conference and has attended four NCAA regionals since 2013.

After finishing third in its conference with a 27-17 record, Michigan returns a sturdy set of arms this season, including second-team All-Big 10 pitcher Cameron Weston, returning starter Jacob Denner (4-4, 4.35 ERA last season) and former relief pitcher Willie Weiss (4-2, 2.63 ERA, 5 SV), and are expected to lead the charge. Although, sophomores Connor O’Halloran, Logan Wood and Chase Allen could make some noise in the rotation as well.

Much like the Wildcats, the Wolverines have several new faces and few — yet impactful — returning players. Michigan retained all-conference player Ted Burton this past season, who hit for a .342 average, All-Big 10 left fielder Tito Flores (.325/.429/.552), shortstop Riley Bertram and junior Clark Elliot, but brought in transfers from Davidson (Alex Fedje-Johnson) and Michigan State (Joe Stewart).

Jake Marti and Jordan Rogers also return from injuries this past fall and could surprise the Big Blue faithful.

Sunday: Auburn Tigers

Starting in the preseason top-25 this past year, the Auburn Tigers finished with a disappointing 25-27 record after being plagued with injuries and poor pitching.

The Tigers look to turn their bad luck around with a talented group of infielders and progress on the mound.

Samford transfer Sonny DiChiara has tallied 39 career homers at his former school and is likely to serve as first baseman for the Tigers. They also acquired a second Samford transfer, Brooks Carlson, who has hit for .344 in his career but stress-fractured his foot this past fall.

Brody Moore will play shortstop instead of second base this year because Cole Foster might seize the chance, and junior-college transfer Blake Rambusch is expected to make his presence felt on defense.

Besides the promising infield, Kason Howell returns to center field for his fourth year starting, and freshman Cam Hill is expected to bring a big bat into the season.

However, pitching ranked 13 out of 14 in the SEC this past season in ERA, and a lot of the same guys are returning

2022 State Farm College Baseball Showdown:

The round-robin tournament hosts K-State, No. 15 Arizona, Auburn, Michigan, Oklahoma and No. 12 Texas Tech.

Oklahoma and Auburn kick off the tournament at 11 a.m. on Friday, February 18. Viewing is available at FloSports.