After nine successful years at Central Missouri State, Brad Hill wouldn’t have left for the job at Kansas State if he didn’t think they could be successful in Manhattan.
But the plan was there, and Hill, armed with an .821 winning percentage at CMSU, decided to accept the challenge of taking over a program that had been on the brink of fading away.
When Mike Clark took over in 1987, K-State was ready to close down its baseball program and look toward something else. Until his retirement in 2003, Clark worked to put up fences on his own and helped the school build a stadium, all while working on a small budget.
When Hill took over, the idea was that the foundation had been laid through Clark’s hard work. Hill showed up as a young coach looking to produce a constant winner.
If that opportunity wasn’t available, the Kansas-native said he might not have come at all.
“The vision of this happening was there or I wouldn’t have come over from Central Missouri, I would have just stayed over there and kept doing what we were doing there,” he said. “The vision was there, and it’s been a process. We’re not where we want to be yet, but this is another step.”
The vision started to come to fruition in the 2009 when the team made its first regional in school history. It followed with another two in the two seasons after.
K-State missed the postseason in 2012, but came back looking to make some noise the following year.
Another thing happened after the Wildcats missed the postseason, too. Kent State and Stony Brook made the College World Series in 2012, showing a sport that had not seen much parity in its past, might be opening up to new names.
And then K-State responded by winning enough games to host a regional for the first time ever.
“I look at last year when you have Stony Brook and Kent State playing in Omaha, I think that gave everyone in college baseball hope that there’s a chance for anybody to make that happen,” Hill said. “I give kudos to those programs to give everybody hope.”
The Wildcats came into the 2013 season picked to finish low in the Big 12 standings though, slotted as the seventh-best team in the conference. And until the final weeks of the season, K-State was still playing well under the radar.
Junior outfielder Jared King said that under the radar spot for the Cats might have been an advantage, but he doesn’t think playing out of that spot, as a regional host, will cause them to play differently.
“I think the confidence our team has and the way we prepare everyday, the same, is going to make us successful,” he said. “We control our own destiny. We know we’re the best team in our regional and if we take care of business, we’ll keep it going.”
After last year’s disappointments and the low expectations placed on K-State before the season, the squad seemed to embrace the underdog persona.
And even though they are now playing in a position as the top team in their regional, senior outfielder Jon Davis doesn’t think anything will change.
“I don’t think there’s really anything that will change, people are probably even mad that we’re hosting a regional,” he said. “We’re just going to come out play hard like we always do.”
The K-State baseball program has gone from the bottom of the barrel, nearly shutdown, to a comeback from the depths and rising to a spot among college baseball’s best teams.
In a way, the Wildcats have been underdogs for years. And finally, the rewards of all that hard work put in over the years, are paying off for everyone involved in building it from the bottom up.
Arkansas worried about KSU turf
The questions and answers from Arkansas media and players alike on Thursday, revolved around the turf at Tointon Family Stadium, and the effects it has on the game.
According to several Arkansas players, the turf is the reason K-State has been able to hit so many doubles and triples this season.
Whether that’s true or not, Hill said the turf rarely plays much different than regular grass.
“I’m not sure if it will play a lot different,” he said. “The only thing we noticed is the last series it played a little bouncier. It was a little bit quicker than it has been playing. And if it’s wet, watch out, it will play a lot different.”