K-State baseball opens season Friday in Florida tourney

By Joel Jellison

With a heavy mix of veteran and newcomer talent, the Kansas State baseball team is ready to hit the field.

The Wildcats open the season on Friday at the Sunshine State Classic in Kissimmee, Florida, with games against Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Delaware.

“We’re excited to get going,” K-State coach Brad Hill said. “I think offensively, defensively, you’re ready to see some different people on the field. You’d like more time with the pitching, just from a safety issue with their arms and being more in shape, more finely tuned, but we’re no different than anyone else. It’s time to line up and go play and find out where we’re at.”

K-State was picked to finish eighth in the league after going 26-31 a season ago. The Wildcats made their ninth trip to the Big 12 tournament in the last 10 years in 2016, but the finish to the season left more to be desired.

Despite improved offensive numbers, K-State struggled at times on the mound and lost a number of close games.

“We’ve got to be better than we were last year, no question, on a lot of different things,” Hill said.

K-State opens the season with four seniors in its infield, led by first baseman Jake Scudder, second baseman Josh Ethier, third baseman Quintin Crandall and shortstop Jake Wodtke.

Wodtke was one of the most consistent bats for the Wildcats in 2016, but went down with a season-ending injury in May after being hit by a pitch.

Hill said he played a big role in helping the team develop in the offseason.

“He was here this summer, which was critical for us from a leadership standpoint,” Hill said. “He was a tremendous example for the young guys on how we do things here.”

With a number of options in the outfield and designated hitter Josh Rolette moving to catcher, Wodtke is excited to see what this team can do.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons,” Wodtke said. “We’ve got a lot of experience and a lot of weapons, and our experience is going to help us out and play to our advantage this year. We’ve got some big arms and some young dudes with a lot of tools.”

On the mound, the Wildcats will turn to Bryce Ward as their No. 1 pitcher. Ward missed all of last season with an injury after posting good numbers as a freshman in 2015.

Hill said they’re excited to have Ward back and to put him in a big role.

“He pitched real well as a freshman,” he said. “(He has) good composure on the mound and he’s a strike thrower. Those are the things we look for. We missed him last year. He was a very important piece to our puzzle. He’s come back, got himself into shape and he looks good.”

K-State opens the weekend with an 11 a.m. (CST) game against Ohio State. On Saturday the Wildcats have a doubleheader against Pittsburgh and Delaware. The tournament ends Sunday with a 10 a.m. contest against Ohio State.

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