Wednesday afternoon inside Tointon Family Stadium, the Kansas State baseball team didn’t seem like a ball club that had just lost its ninth consecutive game the night before.
No, the Wildcats were vocal, energetic and enthusiastic during their practice. It wasn’t a team that seemed down on itself.
“I think that’s all we need right now,” K-State first baseman Wade Hinkle said after he was able to get quality swings in the batting cage. “We needed to come out, have some fun and clear out what’s been going on and just move on from there.
“It’s obviously been a tough stretch for us these last few weeks. It’s just good to come out and have some fun. It’s easy to take this game too serious and try and do too much with it. You get down and the frustration sets in and it just keeps snowballing. This was just one of those days we needed to come out, have some fun and stay loose.”
The month of April wasn’t fun for K-State.
The Wildcats (19-27, 3-15) only won five games last month and went winless in Big 12 play. While K-State played tight with No. 3 Baylor in the middle of the month, losing Game 1 late 5-3, Game 2 14-12 and the final game of the series 12-11 in 11 innings, the Cats haven’t been as competitive in conference play since.
After notching two wins at home against Northern Colorado, the Wildcats were pummeled on the road at Missouri by a combined run total of 24-7. K-State then suffered extra-innings losses against Wichita State and at Kansas, but was blindsided again last weekend in Tointon when Oklahoma State cruised for a series sweep that saw lopsided wins of 5-0, 13-3 and 9-5.
With Tuesday night’s 10-3 loss at Wichita State, the Wildcats’ losing streak is one game away from 10 straight, which would tie for the longest skid for the program since 2003.
K-State will host Nebraska-Omaha this weekend, with Friday’s first pitch beginning at 6:30 p.m.
“We’re frustrated, there’s no question,” said head coach Brad Hill, who is in his ninth year at K-State and fresh off three straight NCAA tournament appearances. “We definitely don’t want to be in the position we are in, but we have to deal with it, and we are. We have to be mature about this thing and have some pride in what we are trying to do, and try to put this thing together.
“Obviously, it would be nice to get some wins this weekend and try and get some confidence. There is still some things we have to play for at this back end of the season. We would sure like to go out on a positive note.”
Hill said the lineup and rotation has been subject to change. Senior pitcher Matt Applegate has been moved to the bullpen to provide strength for the later innings, where K-State has struggled.
Overall, though, the losses that have piled up lately have provided more of a mental block for the Wildcats than anything else.
“When you start losing like that, it becomes mental,” Hill said. “All of sudden, you don’t play to win, you play not to lose. You start waiting for bad things to happen instead of being on task, or (Tuesday night against the Shockers) we did some dumb things. We missed some pop-ups, we tried to steal a base when it wasn’t there… then you start forcing things that aren’t there because you want to be a spark plug. But then you have guys doing too much. You want guys to do that. You need guys to do that, but sometimes, again, you try too hard and don’t see the pitch you want to see.
“That’s happened on numerous occasions.”
Hill also mentioned similar set-backs in pitching, where K-State has often been able to get ahead in counts, but has failed to deliver the retiring throw in crunch time.
Despite all the negative stats, though, Hill is committed to battle this drought with positive reinforcement.
“The big thing is keeping positive,” he said. “We have to keep playing and keep giving effort. Stay positive and give me effort.”
Hinkle, who is hitting .311 and leads the team with eight home runs and 37 RBIs, said the team’s current win-loss record is exactly that: a team record.
“It’s not an individual thing,” Hinkle said. “We’re just trying to stay positive and (stay together) as a team, because we are losing as a team.
“We’re not losing individually. We’re just trying to keep the positive attitude and emotions out here.”
Following Friday’s game with Nebraska-Omaha (12-32, 1-9 Independent), the Wildcats will continue the series Saturday at 2 p.m. and conclude it Sunday at 1 p.m.