This season was another step forward for the Kansas State baseball program.
And next season, it might be another.
Yes, the Wildcats will lose a few seniors — notably Tanner Witt, Jon Davis and Joe Flattery — while drafted juniors Jared King, Ross Kivett and Shane Conlon all have big decisions to make. But the Wildcats will also return a promising young group that has to be hungry for even more.
K-State has a stable of young arms, many that carried big loads this year. But many have more to learn and improvements to make. If they turn the corner, they can be even better.
Jake Matthys will be back for K-State after a standout season, as will freshmen arms like Blake McFadden, Levi MaVorhis and Jordan Witcig.
Nate Williams and Matt Wivinis will be just juniors. Gerardo Esquivel and Jared Moore will be seniors.
Going into this past season, it was believed hitting would carry the Wildcats. And though that was the case for much of the season, there were signs pitching had a chance to be this team’s strength down the road — perhaps as soon as next year.
K-State will lose key parts of its offense that ranked second nationally this past season. You’re likely to see some familiar faces in new places next spring, ready to make their own impact.
Infielder Lance Miles and outfielder Mitch Meyer shared duties as designated hitters this season. Both are expected to compete for open spots in the field next season, as is the same with Damion Lovato and Manhattan High product Kyle Speer.
The Wildcats will be returning all-conference performers like Austin Fisher, Blair DeBord, RJ Santigate and, maybe, Conlon.
The effects of this year’s Super Regional finish might be felt for some time throughout the program. Going into the Wildcats’ first home NCAA Regional, K-State associate athletic director Casey Scott said hosting a regional and advancing to a super were two milestones that could help push the program another step forward.
K-State isn’t so easy to ignore these days. No, the Wildcats don’t have the rich baseball history that many of its Big 12 foes have. But neither did the football team when Bill Snyder elevated it to new heights in his first go-around as coach.
Hill has been able to successfully add to a foundation built with sweat and hard work by former coach Mike Clark. Hill took his winning history as a Division-II head coach — molded it and shaped it to fit K-State. It’s worked.
Since Hill arrived in 2004, the Wildcats have played in four regionals, won a Big 12 title and added a super regional appearance.
The Wildcats were two runs away from playing in the College World Series. They tested the adage of “good pitching beats good hitting” with tenacity. And they showed the Big 12 might be in better shape than so-called experts initially thought.
In a conference so often dominated by big money programs like Texas and Oklahoma, the Wildcats have inserted themselves as a new contender in the new Big 12. And on paper, they appear to have what it takes to come back, make another run at the Big 12 title and get back to the postseason.
The pain of falling a game short of going to the College World Series might linger for a few weeks, but it might also push K-State forward next season. In 2012, a bad season kept the Wildcats out of the postseason for the first time in three years. Perhaps extra motivation this season?
Only time will tell, but if you’re looking to move forward from the banner 2013 season, the only place to go from here is Omaha.