Cats look for first title in 80 years

By Joel Jellison

Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, the Lone Ranger debuted on radio and Major League Baseball played its first All-Star game.

It was 1933, and the world was on the verge of social and economical change. And the Kansas State baseball team went 3-2 to tie for the Big Six title.

Now, 80 years after winning its last conference title, K-State is on the verge of adding its first Big 12 Conference championship.

With one win over Oklahoma in this weekend’s series, the Wildcats would claim at least a share of the league regular-season title, winning their first league title since they won three in a five-year period from 1928 to 1933.

History aside, K-State coach Brad Hill said the message for the team this weekend will remain the same, with added emphasis on understanding the chance they have.

“Enjoy the moment, enjoy the opportunity we have in front of us,” Hill said. “We’re just trying to do what we do, get prepared for a weekend series and try to keep everything as normal as we can. We don’t want to change anything.”

A year ago, it would have been hard to imagine the Wildcats being in any position to challenge for a Big 12 title. K-State went 27-31 with a 7-17 record in league play, finishing tied for eighth place.

That’s the place where everything turned around for the Wildcats. After three straight years of making the postseason — the first three appearances in school history — K-State looked to have elevated its status as a program.

Hill said getting back to where they all feel they belong has been a factor that has pushed both coaches and players forward.

“It was very motivating,” he said. “It’s very motivating when you have a season like that and now with what the expectations were and are now for our program, we wanted to get back to work. As a coach, you step back and reevaluate things that you might want to do differently. I don’t think we really did, other than corral some of the older guys and let them know they need to take ownership of the team. They’ve really taken it and ran with it.”

At stake for the Wildcats is their first league title, the No. 1 seed in next week’s Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City, and the chance to boost its resume toward hosting an NCAA regional in Manhattan.

K-State could also join an elite group of schools that have pulled off a trifecta of league championships in football, men’s basketball and baseball.

Hill said it’s something they haven’t made a focus down the stretch of the season. But he said they have taken pieces from both seasons and used them as talking points for the team.

“It’s not in the forefront of your mind, that’s a football and basketball accomplishment, you take things off of what they’ve done and try to utilize the success they’ve had and kind pull some examples out some things they do and how they go about their business, and obviously Coach Snyder, we use him all the time, it’s an everyday approach, you never change, you just stay consistent, and don’t make too much out of things and just prepare to get better each day.”

The Wildcats’ opponent this weekend is no slouch either. The Sooners are sitting in second place, and have had their chances of winning the title made more difficult by a tough stretch of games over the last two series.

Oklahoma has one of the best pitching staffs in the country, and Hill said they’ll be tough to solve offensively as well.

“We played TCU, and it’s going to be a very comparable type situation,” he said. “Offensively, they’ll present some challenges with their speed, and they’ve got some power. Obviously the attention goes to (pitching).”

The Wildcats are expecting big crowds this weekend, as fans flock to Tointon to see if K-State can claim its third conference title of the athletic year.

Sophomore shortstop Austin Fisher said he hopes they can send the crowd home happy.

“We hope a lot of people show up, I’ve heard numbers we’ve never seen before,” he said. “We’re just treating it like it’s a normal series. We’re going to go out there and play it like we have every series. If a bunch of people show up that’s great. We want to celebrate with the entire town if we win.”

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