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Consistency continues to be battle for defending Big 12 champions

Returning was the majority of an offense that led the Big 12 in average

Posted: April 9, 2014 - 10:49pm  |  Updated: April 10, 2014 - 12:25am
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  Scott Weaver / k-statesports.com
Scott Weaver / k-statesports.com
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It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Kansas State.

The defending Big 12 Conference baseball champions brought back for 2014 several of the key components that helped them win the league and advance to the school’s first Super Regional, coming within one win of a spot in the College World Series.

Returning was the majority of an offense that led the Big 12 in average, and several key arms on the mound.

For whatever reason, however, defending the Big 12 title has proven more difficult than winning it the first time.

“We’re just trying to battle through right now, stay positive and take it one day at a time,” said head coach Brad Hill, who is in his 11th season leading the Wildcats. “We still have a ways to go. I think everybody would agree with that.”

Despite having numbers similar to last year in terms of batting average, run production and ERA, the Wildcats have battled inconsistency all season long. They entered Wednesday night’s game at Nebraska at 19-13 overall and 2-4 in the Big 12 with a road trip to Texas Tech (25-11, 5-7) looming for this weekend.

Kansas State welcomed back five of its top seven hitters from last year, including Big 12 Player of the Year Ross Kivett, who hit .360 with 39 RBIs in 2013 and is hitting .333 with 23 RBIs through Tuesday. In terms of team statistics, the Wildcats aren’t that far off from last year’s results.

In 2013, KSU led the conference with a .322 batting average. Going into Wednesday, the Wildcats were hitting .299 and were the only team in the conference hitting .300 or higher to start the week. The biggest difference is in power, with KSU averaging about half as many home runs as it did last year.

Run production is also about the same. Kansas State averages 6.63 runs per game this season, compared to 6.74 last season, and allows 4.38 runs per game this year compared to 4.48 a year ago.

The inconsistency still remains, and this past weekend against rival Kansas was a perfect example. The Wildcats opened the home series by torching the Jayhawks 10-0, then scored just four more runs the rest of the weekend to drop the series.

KSU started the year losing seven of their first eight, then went on to win 12 in a row. In their last 12 games, however, the Wildcats are an even 6-6.

“There aren’t any excuses,” Hill said. “It’s a tough game. One of the things that’s a big mental thing is there’s a lot of expectations on this group. That’s a new thing for them to deal with and we’re still trying to figure that out.”

It also didn’t help — though Hill said it’s not a reason for the inconsistency — that the Wildcats suffered some huge injury blows before the season even started.

Pitchers Nate Williams, Matt Wivinis and Blake McFadden all suffered season-ending injuries before the season began, Wivinis and McFadden with arm injuries and Williams with an ankle.

That meant the loss of 44 starts, 16 victories and 201 innings pitched from a year ago. It also forced younger players into those roles while also affecting the depth of the bullpen and midweek pitching. Levi MaVorhis (4-3, 2.75 ERA) started six games last season and has taken over the Friday starting slot. Jared Moore (5-2, 4.43) starts on Sunday while redshirt freshman Nate Griep (3-1, 1.79) moved into the Sunday slot a few weeks ago and has solidified that spot. Neither of the last two, however, had started a single game last season.

Sophomore Jake Matthys, who led the team with nine wins and nine saves a year ago, has struggled, entering the week 1-2 with a 9.69 ERA, though he did throw four scoreless innings against Wichita State on Tuesday.

“(The injuries) were not an issue, to be honest with you,” Hill said. “Pitching didn’t have a lot to do with it. Certainly we’d like to have those guys in there but I don’t know if they would have made a lot of difference those first eight games.”

The one thing that has been consistent, Hill said, all season has been effort.

“We show up to play, and we play hard every game,” Hill said. “There’s no question about that.”

george.watson@lubbockonline.com

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College baseball

Who: Kansas State at Texas Tech

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday; 3 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. Sunday

Where: Rip Griffin Park, Lubbock

Records: Kansas State 19-13, 2-4 in Big 12; Texas Tech 25-11, 5-7

Radio: KTTU 104.3 FM

Twitter: @AJJorge

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