No doubt, the Kansas State baseball team had lofty expectations when the season started.
Now 28 games into the season, the Wildcats are sitting at 17-11 overall and 1-2 in the Big 12 — nowhere near what their personal goals were coming into the season.
K-State, picked to win the Big 12 this season and once ranked in every major poll, is looking for a better second half of the season, one that still gets it to the College World Series.
That starts tonight when the Wildcats open a three-game series against rival Kansas at Tointon Family Stadium.
K-State will be facing a Jayhawk team that is off to a similar start at 19-10 overall. Tonight’s first pitch is set for 6:30, televised on Cox channel 22.
K-State coach Brad Hill said the season can be defined in just a word.
“Best word is inconstancy,” he said Thursday. “We’ve shown flashes of not being very good. We’ve shown some flashes of being pretty competitive and doing some things in the direction we want to go.
“But now, can we sustain it for more than a couple games at a time? That’s kind of been the nemesis.”
A shining example of that occurred just this week in a Tuesday loss at Omaha. Coming off a winning series at Creighton last weekend, the Wildcats committed five errors in a 6-5 loss to the Mavericks this week.
Even though K-State has taken the occasional bad loss, Hill said the focus has to remain forward.
“You’re just trying to play each game,” Hill said. “I’m not sure we want to be looking at overall records right now. Can we string together five or six (wins) in a row? They’re not going to play every game perfect. It’s about effort and having the right attitude and being focused. I’ve seen those in not long enough stretches of time for us right now.
“The margin of error becomes a little bit less, but we can’t think about that. We line up on Friday night and see what happens, and then you lineup again on Saturday.”
All of the Wildcats’ struggles this season, however, have come away from home. K-State is 10-0 at home and just 7-11 in games outside of Manhattan.
Senior catcher and Manhattan High product Blair DeBord said the team has had to simplify things to get back to where it needs to be.
“It’s been a grind,” he said. “We didn’t get off to a start we exactly wanted. We got back on when we got to Manhattan.
“We’ve had some road woes. For us to take off from here and have a chance to do the things we want to do, we have to get really locked in.”
If the Wildcats are to do that, they’ll have to do it against a solid KU starting rotation.
K-State’s Levi MaVorhis (3-3, 3.32) will take the bump tonight for the Wildcats. The Jayhawks’ starter had not been named as of press time due an injury to Wes Benjamin.
Saturday’s 2 p.m. matchup puts K-State’s Jared Moore (5-1, 4.15) against Kansas’ Robert Kahana (1-4, 3.46).
Frank Duncan (2-1, 1.69) will get the start for the Jayhawks on Sunday at 1 p.m., meeting the Wildcats’ Nate Griep (3-0, 1.67).
“They’re pitching it very well,” Hill said. “You look at Duncan and Kahana — those guys are very good. I’m not sure what the status of (Benjamin) is, but they’ve got a great lineup coming back. They’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
DeBord said playing KU in this series will be all the motivation he needs, just growing up down the road.
“I’ve been a K-State fan my whole life, so I’ve always really not liked KU, the Jayhawk, things like that,” he said. “(But) they have nice guys. This side of it now, there’s guys on the team that I like. When I was little, I hated them because they were KU.
“I still don’t like KU, but it means a little more, the series. This weekend means a little bit more to us.”