When Matt Applegate and Kayvon Bahramzadeh were freshmen, there was no expectation for NCAA tournament appearances for the Kansas State baseball program.
And that’s not an unfair statement. After all, when these two pitchers were freshman, the Wildcats had never seen the NCAA tournament.
Now, Applegate and Bahramzadeh are the lone seniors and leaders of the pitching staff, and K-State has been is coming off three straight NCAA tournament appearances.
As the Wildcats (17-15, 3-6) head into this weekend’s series against No. 5 Baylor (27-7, 9-0) — beginning tonight at Tointon Family Stadium — the new expectations that have been born in their four years at K-State is something the pitching duo hang their hats on.
“That first time we went to that first (NCAA) regional… that was awesome… that was the one that started the expectations,” Bahramzadeh said following practice earlier this week. “We want to have that banner flying on the fence every year. We take pride in it, and that’s our goal this year again, to get back there and we want to make some noise.”
Applegate and Bahramzadeh, who are the the club’s No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers, respectively, have seen some good ones play before them.
A.J. Morris was a first-team All-American — in six publications — in 2009 and was the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year in that same season. Morris, who was a senior when Applegate and Bahramzadeh were freshmen, holds school records in single-season wins, strikeouts, and had an ERA of 2.09 in his All-American year, which not surprisingly was K-State’s first year to break into the NCAA Tournament.
Morris was eventually drafted in the fourth round by the Washington Nationals.
But it wasn’t just Morris who Applegate and Bahramzadeh have been able to observe throughout their careers as Wildcats. James Allen, who was drafted last season in the seventh round by the Cincinnati Reds, was one of the program’s top closers and totaled 17 saves last year, which broke a K-State record and sits as sixth in Big 12 history.
Thomas Rooke, Kyle Hunter and Evan Marshall are other successful pitchers the duo have seen go to battle on the mound for the Wildcats.
“All those guys are just great pitchers,” Applegate said. “They all have their characteristics that are different, but A.J., just having the ability to go out and be himself everyday — he was nearly perfect. For him to go 13, or 14-1 is unheard of.
“And James and Evan, their ability to come in everyday with the same intensity level and ability to really put the team on their back and give the team a chance to win every day is something I look to.”
K-State head coach Brad Hill — who was also named the Big 12 Coach of the Year in 2009 — said Applegate and Bahramzadeh have put on their hard hats this season.
“They are great examples and extremely hard workers,” Hill said. “That’s first and foremost. It’s about hard work. This isn’t about coming in, punching the clock and throwing a few pitches around. It’s about trying to get better every day.
“Matty’s well conditioned and Kayvon is a guy that is very vocal — he’s a little more vocal than Matty. Matty is a guy that you watch him go play and compete — he’s a competitor. They both bring some different things to the table and they’ve both done a good job of helping this young pitching staff develop… and we’re starting to make some strides and see some progress.”
Hill continued that it’s obvious the duo has taken their notes from the players that have gone before them.
“No question they have,” he said. “You always pick up those things because first of all, we talk about those guys. We talk about the guys that, whether they’ve had a great season, a great career… as coaches we are always talking about those guys as examples.
“These guys want to be remembered that way, too, as an example in the future.”
Applegate is 2-3 on the season as a starter so far while Bahramzadeh is currently 4-1. Both lead the team in strikeouts with 42 a piece. Applegate (5.32 ERA) has pitched the most innings so far at 47 1/3, while Bahramzadeh (4.19 ERA) has the second most at 38 2/3.
Both have acknowledged they have work to do and room to improve, but Bahramzadeh — who missed the last half of his freshman season due to a hamstring injury — said the tradition set by his predecessors is a torch to carry.
“When you are here for four years and you’ve been to the only NCAA’s (in program history) every year it’s something to hang your hat on,” Bahramzadeh said. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs (so far this season) but it’s going to take putting it all together at the same time to make that special run. I’ll take our line-up against anyone in the country. We’ve got the guys — there’s no doubt about that. We have the talent on this team. We’ve just got to put it together.
“It all started with the seniors in my freshman year, and those guys were amazing. Those guys set the tone and ever since then, the Wildcats being in the NCAA’s has been the expectation. That’s our goal.”