After sweeping a two-game series against Northern Colorado, Kansas State baseball sits at 19-14 overall. Ahead of the Wildcats are 10 more contests of a 12-game homestand.
Next up: Oklahoma, which comes to town for a three-game set starting Friday.
“I told our team, this is the time to get going,” Kansas State head coach Pete Hughes said Thursday. “When you have a 12-game home stretch, you have been through the toughest part on paper of the Big 12 schedule. With the benefits of a 12-game home stretch, you better take advantage of it. The time is now.
"We've got to get going, and we've got to start playing well. We've got to be in the right frame of mind where you cannot look at the conference record and feel down on yourself. You've got to move forward, because we do have favorable matchups, and we are good enough, with the schedule coming our way, to win series. That has got to be our focus: to figure out how to win series. (This is a) pivotal part of our season.”
For the Wildcats, who are 2-7 in conference play, it begins with starting pitching. And star sophomore starting pitcher Jordan Wicks will be on the mound to begin the series with the Sooners.
“To win in our league, you've got to get good starts (on the mound),” Hughes said. “It keeps your bullpen fresh, and you don’t get exposed in the third game of the series with a tired bullpen. If you look at the games we have won and the games we have been close in, we have got good starts. If you do not have a good start, it is just not going to work for you. It is pivotal for our three guys to be consistent on this homestand and try to get back in the race of the Big 12.”
Going up against an Oklahoma (18-15, 3-6 Big 12) offense hitting .302, K-State's hurlers need to be at their best.
“We've got to limit free baserunners,” Hughes said. “We've got to limit the walks, keep the home runs to solo home runs, play good defense. That all goes into it, too. That will allow our pitchers to attack the zone and let our defense play. We've got to be careful of getting free baserunners, because (Oklahoma) has some firepower.”
To earn a high finish in the conference standings, the Wildcats need to start winning games. They lost all three games at then-No. 3 Texas last week.
Better results, Hughes hopes, will begin Friday.
“We have got to get back in the (Big 12) race,” Hughes. “It is everything to us right now. I will not say (this is a) 'must-win series.' But we've got to win a series this weekend to get going.”
Friday's game also will be a departure from any other home contest to this point: It will be the first this season with fan capacity increased to 50%. Prior to Friday, all games had been capped at 25% of Tointon Family Stadium's capacity.
“We have a home-field advantage with 25% at Tointon,” Hughes said. “I don’t know if they play the music too loud or what, but (Kansas State) is a rabid fan base. This is the best place I have ever been as far as emotionally invested fans and community. To double that with a homestand, our guys were as fired up as I was. They love our fans. They love our game experience. There is a home-field advantage here.”