Brad Hill has seen his baseball team qualify for the Big 12 tournament five consecutive seasons entering this year. So at this point, a standard of success has been put in place — making the league tournament is almost a given at this point.
That streak is in danger for Kansas State, which is in last place in the conference standings. But all hope isn’t lost just yet, as the Wildcats (22-27, 3-15) host Kansas (19-29, 4-13) this weekend in a series that could boost K-State out of the Big 12’s cellar and past the Jayhawks in the standings.
“We have an opportunity. It’s in our hands,” said Hill, who’s in his ninth season as the head coach at K-State. “You’d rather it be that way than having to watch the scoreboard and pray that somebody gets beat. If you win enough games you get in and that’s where we’re at.
“But the guys can’t think about the pressure of being the first team in five years not to make the tournament. Really you’re just playing like you’ve got nothing to lose because no one is really expecting us to make it right now.”
K-State has lost 10 straight conference games, with its last victory coming at Oklahoma on March 31. But Hill hopes to remind his team of how well it played in its first four Big 12 series. During that stretch K-State went 3-9 against the Big 12’s top four teams and lost four one-run games — two of which occurred in extra innings.
“What I’m really going to try to impress upon them… can we find the team that competed the first four weekends of the Big 12,” Hill said. “That’s the team that I think will have a chance at winning two series. If we find that team we’ll have a chance. If we don’t find that team it’s going to be a real struggle for us.
“I look at the record as 3-9 and it could have been 7-5 so easy. That team that played those first four weekends played with the top four teams in the league. We were right there. We could have been 7-5 against those teams if we make a pitch, make a play, one hit away, that’s how close those were. Those were games we kind of had in hand if we just make plays. That was a team that was really competitive. That’s the team we’re trying to search for here these last two weekends.”
Following this weekend, the Wildcats still have three road games looming at Texas Tech (28-24, 6-15). So even if K-State can sweep the Jayhawks — a team the Wildcats are 1 1/2 games behind in the league standings — there will still be work to be done. That work needs to begin now, because if K-State is going to make a run at its sixth straight Big 12 tournament appearance, the wins must start coming quickly.
“It’s really big for us,” Hill said. “This year is not over. If we can find a way into the Big 12 tournament you can go earn an automatic Big 12 berth (into the NCAA tournament). There are still things out there to play for at this point in time even though the record doesn’t look real pretty right now. But at the same time I don’t think anybody is checking it in. We still have a lot to play for.”