Kansas State has its bags packed for 11 days on the road, but the Wildcats have no idea if they’ll utilize the majority of their luggage.
K-State flies to Lubbock, Texas today to take on Texas Tech in a three-game series beginning on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Depending on how the Wildcats fare against the Red Raiders, K-State could either be bussing all the way back to Manhattan with its season over, or it could be making a stop in Oklahoma City for the Big 12 tournament, which begins next Wednesday.
“That’s what you do. You either ride the bus five-and-a-half hours or ten-and-a-half hours home,” K-State head coach Brad Hill said.
K-State enters the series with a 5-16 conference record, placing it a 1/2 game behind Kansas (20-31, 5-15) for last in the Big 12. If the Wildcats remain in the Big 12’s cellar after this weekend, their season will end, as only eight of the nine teams that play baseball in the Big 12 make the conference tournament.
The simplest scenario for K-State to make the tournament is to win two of three games against Tech (28-24, 6-15), which would put the Wildcats ahead of the Red Raiders in the league standings because they would own the tiebreaker due to the series win. If K-State wins just one game, it would need KU to get swept on its home field in a three-game series against Missouri.
“This (last) weekend (against KU) we knew if we didn’t get it done it was over and it’s the same thing this weekend,” said Jared King, the Wildcats‘sophomore center fielder. “We have to get it done or we’re going home. It’s the same mindset, just play our game and we’ll be fine.”
K-State, which won its first conference series of the season last weekend against KU, is hoping it can make it two in a row against the second-best hitting team in the Big 12. The Red Raiders enter this weekend with a team batting average of .296.
Jamodric McGruder makes Tech go. The Red Raiders’ leadoff man leads the conference with 45 walks, 52 runs scored, eight triples and is third in the country with 37 stolen bases on 42 attempts.
“When McGruder is on base you have to worry about his speed so that means the guys behind him are going to get more fastballs to hit,” Hill said. “That makes everybody behind him more dangerous.”
When McGruder reaches base, Barrett Barnes, one of the top power hitters in the league, often drives him in.
“They have two of the more dynamic offensive players in the league,” Hill said. “Mcgruder gets on and then Barnes becomes very dangerous. Barrett has great power and can make it a two or three-run ballgame in a hurry.”
The Red Raiders are led on the mound by Duke von Schamann, who is fourth in the Big 12 with a 1.71 ERA.
“They’re a good ballclub,” Hill said. “I had them picked in the top six in the league. I really thought they had the parts there to be a team that could finish in the upper echelon of the Big 12. Going to their place makes it extremely tough. They’re a good ballclub at their place.”
If the Wildcats do what they need to at Tech, they’ll be able to get off the bus and stretch their legs for a few days in Oklahoma City. If not, they’ll likely endure a long bus ride back to Manhattan with some unutilized luggage.
“You either have a stop or you don’t have a stop on the way home,” Hill said. “We hope we have a stop.”