It’s safe to say 2012 was a disappointing season for the Kansas State baseball team.
After three straight appearances in the NCAA regionals, the Wildcats finished 27-31 last season and missed out on the postseason.
K-State will open the 2013 season Friday at the Citadel Memorial Challenge in Charleston, S.C., and coach Brad Hill said his team can’t take anything for granted.
“After you come off a year like we had we better be playing with our hair on fire — with a chip on our shoulder,” he said. “We need to be very upset with how we represented our program last year, and that starts with this weekend.
“We’re ready. I think it’s time to line up, put ourselves out there against other teams and make the games count for real.”
K-State will open the tournament with a game against High Point on Friday, followed by a matchup with The Citadel on Saturday and a finale against George Mason on Sunday.
The Wildcats played in the tournament in 2010, beating Delaware and The Citadel and losing to East Tennessee State.
K-State will feature a young roster this season, touting 16 freshmen and 18 non-freshman, making leadership and quick experience the keys to hitting the ground running.
Junior outfielder Jared King said the leadership has been good so far.
“We’ve got a big freshmen class so there’s a lot of upperclassmen leadership that needs to be there, which has been good this year at the start of it,” he said.
Many of the freshmen will be factoring into the pitching staff for the Wildcats, with five freshmen in the bullpen. After opening with a pair of tournaments on South Carolina, the Wildcats play 19 straight home games in the month of March, and Hill hopes it gives their youth a chance to get going early.
“I hope it’s warm,” Hill said of the unusual number of home games in March. “Normally it’s not what you would think is going to happen, but for this ballclub, when we’re talking as many young guys on the mound, hopefully there is a comfort zone and getting them in a rhythm. Maybe it’s beneficial.”
In the rotation, the Wildcats will be moving closer Nate Williams to the top spot, and hoping he can make a successful transition to a starter role. Joe Flattery returns after going 6-4 last season in 15 starts. Hill has not selected a third starter for Sunday’s tournament game.
The Wildcats return several quality bats to the lineup from a season ago, and King said if some of the younger players step up it could be an exciting year offensively.
Hill said they will lean heavily on players like King, Brooks DeBord, Ross Kivett and RJ Santigate early on.
“You really hope that those guys have their game together and don’t press too much or try to do too much, and you hope that they go out and establish themselves as the leaders of the team,” he said. “I think you have five, six guys that you can really look to.”
King hit .377 with seven home runs and 47 RBIs last season, while no other returning player had more than 30 RBIs. Kivett hit .286 with 28 RBIs last season, and DeBord finished batting .257 with two home runs and 28 RBIs.
King said the Wildcats’ bats could be helped out by the inclusion of the large green net in centerfield, also known as a batter’s eye. The batter’s eye allows a batter to see the pitched ball against an uncluttered background. The primary purpose is the safety of the batter.
“That will bring some offensive numbers here,” he said of the net. “When they put it up, I could see. (the ball) looked like a beach ball coming into me. It’s pretty sweet.”
Hill said they haven’t made a final decision on a batting lineup yet, but they know what they are looking for in the middle of the lineup behind King.
“Our thing is, can we just compete at the plate, and not worry about power numbers and just know that the competitive at-bats are going to be more important,” he said. “If you lead the nation in on-base percentage by getting singles and you get some clutch hits and drive in some runs for us, that’s all we’re going to ask for - just quality at-bats behind Jared.”