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Cats battling for final Big 12 spot

By Joel Jellison

The Kansas State baseball team went to TCU last weekend knowing it was running out of time to make the Big 12 tournament.

But once again, the Wildcats were swept.

A season once chalk full of expectations of making it to the College World Series has come down to a pair of do-or-die Big 12 series at home. The Wildcats (24-25, 4-11) are now down to six games and needing to likely beat out Oklahoma in the league standings to make the final spot in Oklahoma City.

The tough part about making up that ground is who K-State plays in those final six games, starting with Big 12-leader Oklahoma State at home this weekend.

The Cowboys are tied for the lead with TCU, but are coming off a weekend of sweeping Pac-12 power Arizona State.

The plus for the Wildcats is the series is at home. K-State is 15-4 at home this season and 3-3 in Big 12 play, while posting a 1-11 record on the road in league play.

“It is what it is,” K-State coach Brad Hill said. “We knew that Oklahoma State was going to be very good this year — they were my preseason pick. They’re a hot team, which it seems like every team we’re playing right now is hot. I’m glad we’ve got them at home.

“You’ve just got to look at our road record and see we’re glad to be at home.”

The series finale in Fort Worth, Texas, marked the third straight time the Wildcats have been swept on the road in Big 12 play, and the finale was one that left a sour taste in the Wildcats’ mouths. After leading the game early, K-State went on to lose 21-7.

“It was pretty low, that was pretty low,” Hill said. “We gave them a couple punches and when they punched back there wasn’t a whole lot left.”

Following the game, senior Ross Kivett delivered an impassioned speech to his teammates in the outfield, and the Wildcats seemingly responded with a 10-4 win at Wichita State on Tuesday.

“I wasn’t happy, I felt like we kind of laid down there,” Kivett said of the TCU finale. “We came back after it Monday and they showed me and we showed the staff that we’re not going to lay down and die. We’re going to play our hearts out the next six games and what happens, happens.”

It has been a tough season for a Wildcats team expected to accomplish so much. K-State returned an entire infield of All-Big 12 selections, including a pair of draft picks in Kivett and Shane Conlon.

But the team sputtered to a 1-7 start, and struggled to recover into Big 12 season.

Still, even with four wins in league play, the Wildcats are just two games out of the final spot for the league tournament, and the Sooners play both TCU and Oklahoma State in the final two weeks.

“It’d be a great accomplishment,” Hill said of the chance to make the Big 12 tournament. “Where we’re at right now and the position we’re in right now, playing two of the top three teams in the league, we’ve got our work cut out for us. But I’m not putting it past these guys. We know what they can do, unfortunately we’ve seen it in short periods of time. We’re still not out of it.”

The Wildcats will play Texas in their final series, also at home, which slipped from fourth to sixth in the league standings last weekend. Still, Hill said he knows no one is expecting his team to win either series.

Kivett said they plan to play both series like there’s nothing to lose, and that’s been the motto for the last two weeks. Senior RJ Santigate said they’re aware the Big 12 tournament is within reach.

“We know it’s there, we just got to be as loose as we possibly can,” he said. “That’s the big thing, and know we have nothing to lose. Coming into this year you had a lot of expectations, those are kind of gone now, so hopefully we can breathe and really just take advantage the next six games.”

Senior Blair DeBord said before the season started they knew they had the pieces in place to accomplish something pretty special. But a few key injuries in the pitching staff left K-State young and inexperienced in its bullpen. And the ball hasn’t bounced the Wildcats’ way too often this season.

Even if the Wildcats win their way into the Big 12 tournament, and could win-out into an NCAA regional, the chances of hosting diminished long ago.

Still, Hill said this will always be a special senior class, after what they did for the program last year.

“They’ve been able to provide some things for Kansas State baseball that hasn’t been accomplished,” he said. “They’ve been a big part of that, and great examples for us to go back and use and utilize.”

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