MANHATTAN, Kan. – Fresh off a series win at Texas, Kansas State is looking to continue momentum in Big 12 road play with a three-game set at Kansas, Friday through Sunday, at Hoglund Ballpark in Lawrence. The Wildcats find themselves in a three-way tie for first place in the league standings entering this weekend as they are playing all three conference games against the Jayhawks on the road for the first time since 1999. The series gets underway Friday with a 6 p.m., first pitch, while Saturday’s contest is set for 2 p.m., and the series finale will begin at 1 p.m., on Sunday. All three games will be produced by Jayhawk All-Access and can be seen live for free at K-StateHD.TV. The series will be broadcast in the Manhattan area on SportsRadio 1350 KMAN with Brian Smoller and Matt Walters on the call, while all audio from all three games can be heard online at both www.k-statesports.com and www.1350kman.com.
K-STATE AT A GLANCE
Well rested following four days without games, Kansas State enters a crucial stretch run of the season with a 34-15 overall record an 11-7 mark in Big 12 play to tie with Oklahoma and West Virginia for the league lead. The Wildcats are coming off a series win at Texas - just the third in school history - as they used a two-run triple in the eighth inning by Ross Kivett on Friday night to earn a 3-2 victory. After committing a season-high five errors in a 6-3 loss on Saturday, K-State came back to win the rubber match Sunday afternoon, 9-3, by scoring multiple runs in three innings, including a four-run seventh that put the game away.
Kansas State, which received votes in various polls for six-straight weeks, is ranked for the first time since May 24, 2010, as the Wildcats are 28th in the NCBWA poll and 29th in the Collegiate Baseball Top 30. K-State is also the top team among “others receiving votes” in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches’ Top 25.
Still leading the Big 12 by a wide margin in both batting average and hits, the Wildcats rank second (.323) and fifth (541) nationally in those departments, respectively. The batting average ranking is impressive considering the Wildcats do not have an individual ranked in the top 120 nationally. However, five Wildcats are within the top 10 of the Big 12 in batting average, led by Austin Fisher’s .356 mark to rank fourth. Fisher, who is also tied for second in doubles with 16, leads the league by 34 points in conference-only hitting at .420. Kivett is fifth in the league in overall average at .354, while Shane Conlon (.341), Tanner Witt (.338) and Jared King (.335) occupy the final three spots in the top 10. Combined with its five spots in batting average, K-State has claimed a total of 44 Big 12 offensive rankings entering play this weekend.
Kansas State will use a rotation full of right-handers for a third-straight week in Levi MaVorhis on Friday, Matt Wivinis Saturday and Blake McFadden on Sunday. MaVorhis, a freshman, has been solid in his first two career starts as he earned the win by tossing 5.1 scoreless innings two weeks ago against TCU, while he took a no decision last week by giving up two runs in five innings with a career-high four strikeouts. In 18 games this season, MaVorhis holds a 4-0 record and a 3.08 ERA with six walks and 24 strikeouts. Wivinis, who has been on a predetermined start of three innings in each of his last three outings, earned the win two weeks ago against TCU and tossed three scoreless frames on April 30 at Creighton in a no decision. However, the sophomore will be looking to bounce back from a loss last week after allowing four runs (one earned) on three hits with two walks in 2.2 innings. In 13 starts this year, Wivinis holds a 6-2 record and a 4.39 ERA. Another freshman, McFadden has been in the weekend rotation for the past five weeks, including a solid effort at Texas when he allowed only one run on five hits in 4.1 innings. A first team high school All-American last year, McFadden is 4-2 with a 3.97 ERA in 13 appearances, including nine starts.
DID YOU KNOW…
• Kansas State leads the Big 12 in seven offensive categories, including batting average (.323), hits (541) and runs (311).
• The Wildcats are three games above .500 in program history at 1,694-1,691-10. It is the first time the program record is at least three games above the .500 mark since 1992.
• Austin Fisher is in the midst of a career-long and Big 12-leading 14-game hitting streak in which he is hitting 24-for-52 (.462) with three doubles, four RBI, seven runs scored and a .525 on-base percentage.
• Tanner Witt, who ranks in the top 10 of three K-State career categories, is one of the top five active players in the Big 12 in walks (99; 2nd), steals (43; 2nd), games played (196; 3rd) and at-bats (655; 4th).
• Kansas State’s top five freshmen pitchers in terms of appearances have combined to go 17-2 with five saves, a 3.29 ERA and a 2.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio (108 strikeouts, 41 walks). Leading the charge is Jake Matthys (7-0, 1.73 ERA) and Levi MaVorhis (4-0, 3.08 ERA).
• Head coach Brad Hill is one conference victory away from earning his 100th Big 12 win.
AHEAD OF THE CURVE
K-State holds an 11-7 mark in Big 12 play through six series to sit in a tie for first place in the conference standings, the latest in the season a K-State team has been in first place in the Big 12 era. The Wildcats have run past last year’s Big 12 win total of seven, while they have hit the 10-win mark in league play for the sixth time in seven years. In fact, K-State’s 11-7 start in its first 18 conference games is tied for the best mark by the Wildcats in the Big 12 era with the 2010 team. The 2009 squad, which went to K-State’s first-ever NCAA Regional, was 10-7-1, while the other regional club (2011) went 8-10. 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 two of its three Big 12 series in 2013 prior to its final Big 12 road trip this weekend.
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 9-8 in true road games and 12-9 in games away from Tointon Family Stadium, has this weekend’s road series at Kansas prior a series at home against Oklahoma and the 2013 Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship. 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).
KANSAS AT A GLANCE
Entering its final weekend of Big 12 play, Kansas holds a 31-18 overall record and a 12-9 mark in league action. The Jayhawks, who swept Baylor last weekend, are coming off a 7-5 victory Tuesday at Wichita State as they scored five runs in the fifth en route to a season sweep of WSU.
Kansas appears to be one of the more well-rounded teams in the conference as they rank fifth in both batting average and ERA. The Jayhawks, who are hitting .272 as a team, are led by sophomore Michael Suiter, who is at .324 with nine doubles, a triple and 23 RBI. Suiter also paces KU with 17 steals. Cleanup hitter Alex DeLeon is a point behind Suiter at .323 and leads the team in doubles (16), home runs (7) and RBI (39). In fact, the first baseman has seven of the team’s nine home runs. Also hitting above .300 is senior infielder Kevin Kuntz at .308.
The Jayhawks are expected to start right-hander Thomas Taylor on Friday, left-hander Wes Benjamin on Saturday and righty Frank Duncan on Sunday. Taylor is 5-1 with a 2.37 ERA in 11 starts this year, including a complete-game shutout. The senior has allowed only 20 earned runs on 69 hits in 76 innings with 22 walks and a team-high 57 strikeouts. Taylor picked up the win last Friday against the Bears after allowing only two runs with three walks and six strikeouts. Benjamin, a sophomore, is 4-5 with a 4.19 ERA in 12 games, including a pair of complete-game efforts. In 73 innings, the left-hander has surrendered 34 runs on 80 hits with 28 walks and 50 strikeouts. Benjamin took a no decision last Saturday as he allowed three runs despite giving up 10 hits in a game KU won in the bottom of the ninth inning. Last season in Manhattan, Benjamin tossed a complete-game shutout as he worked around six hits and a walk with eight strikeouts. Duncan, a junior, enters the weekend with a 3-4 record and a 3.70 ERA in 16 games, including 10 starts. Used as a Friday reliever and a Sunday starter last weekend, Duncan tossed 1.1 no-hit innings with a strikeout in the series opener prior to surrendering two unearned runs on two hits in six innings of the finale. The Kansas bullpen is anchored by Jordan Piché, who is 6-2 with a Big 12-best 0.71 ERA. He has allowed only four runs on 35 hits with seven walks and 40 strikeouts in 51 innings. The right-hander also leads the Big 12 with 10 saves, while his 25 appearances are tied for first.
THE KANSAS SERIES
Kansas State owns a 169-161-1 all-time record against Kansas, including a 28-18 mark in Big 12 play, as K-State has won 17 of the last 22 meetings. However, the Wildcats will be looking to right the ship in Lawrence as they are 64-84 at Hoglund Ballpark, including a non-conference loss in Lawrence last year as the Jayhawks won, 8-7, on a walk-off homer to begin the bottom of the 11th. Following the non-conference loss, K-State was able to rebound by taking the Big 12 series in Manhattan. The two teams shut out one another on Friday and Saturday - a 2-0 K-State win and a 6-0 KU victory - before the Wildcats won the finale, 9-3. Jared King, Jon Davis and Ross Kivett have each hit well in their careers against KU. King is at .391 in six games with three doubles, a homer and seven RBI. King and Wade Hinkle hit consecutive homers in last year’s finale. Davis hit .400 (6-for-15) in four games last year, while Kivett holds a career .333 average against KU. As a freshman in 2011, Kivett had the game-winning hit in the opener as K-State won, 11-10, in 11 innings.
Kansas State is having one of its better years at the plate in terms of both batting average and total hits. The Wildcats rank second nationally in batting average at .323. Even more impressive is the fact that K-State does not have an individual ranked in the top 120 nationally as all eight of the Wildcats’ everyday starters are hitting .314 or better. Kansas State’s average is also an impressive 30 points better than any other Big 12 team. The Wildcats rank fifth nationally in hits at 541, while they lead the Big 12 by 65 in that department. The Wildcats are 23 hits away from entering the school’s top 10. In 49 games this season, the Wildcats have reached the 10-hit mark on 33 occasions, which are already three more than last year’s total.
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 two Friday starts while former starters Joe Flattery and Nate Williams 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 2.47 ERA with 20 walks and 44 strikeouts in the last seven games, holding a 5-2 record during that stretch. In his first two career starts, MaVorhis is 1-0 and has allowed only two earned runs in 10.1 innings, which is good for a 1.74 ERA. Flattery holds a 1-0 record and a 1.04 ERA with a walk and seven strikeouts, while Williams has tossed five scoreless innings with two walks and 10 strikeouts.
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 last Friday at Texas was Kivett’s sixth-career game-winning hit in the eighth inning for 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.
TRIPLING AT A TORRID PACE
K-State has hit a Big 12-leading 26 triples this season, a mark that is tied for fourth in school history and is the most since the 1997 squad had 30. The Wildcats could reasonably move into second place by the end of the regular season as they are four away from a tie for third. Eight Wildcats have two or more triples this year, led by Ross Kivett and Mitch Meyer with four apiece. Kivett, who now has 10 career triples to tie for 10th in school history, had three last week as he tripled twice at Creighton last Tuesday and had a game-winning two-run triple at Texas last Friday. His two-triple performance in Omaha was the first by a Wildcat since Josh Cavender against Howard on April 15, 2001.
Kansas State’s bullpen has been outstanding this season as it holds a 16-3 record and a 3.55 ERA. The 16 victories by the relievers this year are tied for the most under head coach Brad Hill with the 2011 squad, while the winning percentage of .842 is by far the best in the last 10 years as it is 160 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 freshman as Jake Matthys, Jordan Witcig, Levi MaVorhis, Hayden Nixon, Landon Busch and Blake McFadden have combined for a 12-0 record and a 3.45 ERA out of the bullpen while limiting opponents to just a .244 batting average. MaVorhis has moved into the starting rotation over the last two weeks, giving Witcig more opportunities to pitch out of the bullpen.
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 1.73 ERA with four saves in a team-high 24 appearances. He picked up his seventh victory last Friday at Texas to tie the K-State freshman record for wins and move into a tie for 10th in school history in single-season victories. His seven relief victories are also the most by a K-State pitcher in the Big 12 era. In addition, Matthys is tied for first in the conference in league-only wins at four and is second among relief pitchers in overall victories this season.
SOLID SOPHOMORE SEASON
Shortstop Austin Fisher has taken a leap from his freshman season as he is hitting a team-leading .356, including a Big 12-best .420 in conference-only games, while he enters this weekend’s series riding a career-long 14-game hitting streak. Fisher, who is tied for second in the league with 16 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 half of his season total of 28. 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.
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’ 34 wins. Kansas State, which is 14-8 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 118-159 (.426) when its opponent scores first, including a 66-69 (.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 .316, 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).