Monday, October 5, 2015

Young arms have Cats in title chase

The Kansas State baseball team gets more headlines for its hot-hitting offense, but the Wildcats go into this weekend’s series at Texas just two games out of second and 2 1/2 back from first-place Oklahoma in the Big 12, much to the credit of its pitching.

At 32-14 overall and 9-6 in the league, that’s that’s just half the story for the surging Wildcats.

After all, K-State’s hitters work against the Wildcats’ pitchers often. The guys on the mound don’t make it easy on them either. In fact, K-State’s pitchers haven’t made it easy for anyone.

While the Wildcats don’t feature the lowest ERA in the Big 12 — ranking eighth at 3.84 — the Wildcats’ hurlers have tallied the second-most wins at 32 and currently have the most saves in the conference with 13.

K-State hasn’t walked many, either. At 128 walks allowed so far this season, Wildcat pitchers have totaled the fifth-fewest.

What is most impressive about the K-State pitching staff, however, is its youth.

Of the 14 Wildcats who have taken the mound so far this season for K-State, seven of them are freshman and two are sophomores.

Sophomores Matt Wivinis and Nate Williams have combined for 112 2/3 innings pitched.

Freshmen Blake McFadden and Levi MaVorhis have combined for 74 innings. Jake Matthys, who has four saves for eighth in Big 12, has tallied up 32 1/3 innings.

“We’ve had (good) freshmen,” K-State head coach Brad Hill said earlier this week. “Our walls are lined with some freshman All-Americans. But, at the same time, for them to be able to perform at that level — we’ve had a James Allen who was able to do it, but other than that it’s been position players like (Nick) Martini, and Jared King.

“We have guys that are consistent. That’s why you see Matthys out there three times on the weekend and MaVorhis is out there starting.”

All the Wildcats’ success has K-State in the Big 12 title chase. Is it possible the Wildcats could win a Big 12 championship, following what the football and men’s basketball teams did this season?

Junior catcher Blair DeBord — a Manhattan High product — said the precedent set by the football and basketball teams have motivated the team.

“They set a good tone for the year,” he said. “They aren’t picked to finish high each year, yet they come out, blue-collar like, and take care of business. We took notice of that and we just play with a chip on shoulder, ready to go, and knew that nobody is expecting anything from us.”

He also spoke on the ways the hitters and pitchers work off each other’s success.

“It’s one of those things where (our hitters) know we can pick (our pitchers) up,” DeBord said. “The deeper and deeper we get into the season, the more (the pitchers) are realizing we can score off anyone. So, that gives guys confidence.”

Senior lefty Joe Flattery, who is second to Wivinis with 59 1/3 innings tossed, said the team’s confidence in itself has been key.

It also helps that the K-State pitchers are backed up by a defense that has the top fielding percentage in the Big 12.

“Honestly, it doesn’t feel like we’re going to lose any games,” Flattery said. “That’s kind of the mindset we have. Every game, we feel like we’re going to beat these guys. Even when we get beat, we feel like, ‘hey, we could have won that.’”

As a senior, Flattery said it especially feels good to have the kind of year his team is having.

“I thought last year we could of done the same thing,” he said. “I thought we had a good team. You practice with these guys for six months before the season starts. You see the preseason predictions and you know what you can do — you don’t really care about what everyone else thinks you can do.

“The guys hitting the ball well right now have been hitting the ball well all throughout the fall. The reason why the pitching staff has been so good is because we face good hitting (in practice). We have really tough guys to get out.”

The way his team has surprised the naysayers is also something Flattery is enjoying.

“That’s kind of the way we are being Kansas State, in any sport,” he said. “Anytime Kansas State does well, we’re always kind of the underdog in the conference — and that’s fun.”

First pitch in Austin, Texas tonight is 6:35, followed by Saturday’s 2 p.m. game and the series finale on Sunday at 1 p.m.

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