When the Kansas State baseball team concludes its series with Texas this Sunday, the season will be over.
There will be no Big 12 tournament, no NCAA regional and no trips to play in the College World Series.
But K-State (24-28) coach Brad Hill is hoping his team still comes out and plays for something.
“I think the big thing is that we compete and we play for pride, and you’d like to end on a positive note. Can you win one or two? I don’t know where the mindsets are at and where guys are at coming off of finals. It’s going to be a difficult weekend, no question, when you’re really not playing for a lot other than some pride. You try to get a couple wins and maybe get some wins in for next year.”
The Wildcats entered this season coming off the best season in school history, and returned an entire infield of All-Big 12 performers. The expectations were high, with the team picked to finish even better than it did the year before.
K-State was realistically talking about making it to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., for the first time ever.
But after a few key pitching injuries and a 1-7 start in trips to the West coast, it seemed like the Wildcats never quite recovered.
“I shoulder much of the blame this year for not preparing these guys the right way,” Hill said. “To talk Omaha… you have to prepare for Cal Poly. We’re talking Omaha and we play Cal Poly the first game of the year. I just did, I think, a very poor job this year of helping these guys mentally understand what we need to do, how to go about our business, preparing the right way.
“To lose three to (Cal Poly) and really self-destruct the rest of the week. I just did a really poor job of helping them get back and repaired there. That’s all on me.”
For a time after the Wildcats returned home from that rough road trip, they appeared nearly unbeatable. K-State is 12-1 at home this season in non-league games.
But it’s the 3-6 home mark against league teams going into this last home series that tells the story. And, even more, the 1-11 mark on the road in Big 12 play.
“I’m not sure we ever really recovered,” Hill said. “We did come home and played some good baseball at home. We just never felt like we were ever playing at the level, number one, that we thought we could play at, but number two, at the level we needed to compete in the Big 12. I think the league is better this year.”
The league has five teams that will be looking to fill a spot in an NCAA regional in two weeks, while the team picked to win the league this season will be the only one that doesn’t play in the Big 12 tournament next week.
“We didn’t do little things to win games,” Hill said. “The things we did last year that we didn’t do this year was make routine pays, get clutch two-out hits — we just couldn’t do that for an extended period of time this year.”
This weekend will be the final home games for seniors Ross Kivett, Blair DeBord, RJ Santigate and Jared Moore. Kivett, the defending Big 12 Player of the Year, will likely be the Wildcats’ highest draft pick next month. DeBord will be playing out his final series in his hometown. Moore starts on Saturday for the last time, while Santigate is likely to miss the whole weekend after getting injured last weekend against Oklahoma State.
It’s a senior class that has experienced some of the dramatic ups and downs at K-State, going to a regional in 2011, before struggling in 2012, followed by the landmark 2013 and a down 2014.
“I think when they come back, when they’re going to be recognized it’s for last year and not this year, and deservedly so,” Hill said. “I hate the fact that they’re not going out where they want to go out at. They’ve provided two of the biggest years in K-State history.”
Junior Shane Conlon will likely be waiting to see if his name is called against next month, while Austin Fisher will have the first chance of his college career to be selected in the MLB Draft. Hill said when the time comes, he will talk to them about their futures.
Until that weekend, the Wildcats will play out their final games at home with the last chance to build a little momentum toward next season.
Hill said the last time the Wildcats were in this position — about to finish in ninth in the Big 12 — they swept Baylor at home to finish the season. He’s hoping they can play like that again starting Friday night.
“Baseball is a team game, but this is one of those things where you want to be kind of selfish too,” he said. “It’s about can I get a couple hits, can I get outs, can I make the plays I need to make. Sometimes you have to be a little selfish, within the team concept, but at the same time, wanting to be the guy that gets a couple hits and helps spark the team.”