MANHATTAN, Kan. — Kansas State entered the NCAA Tournament with the second-best batting average in the country (.323).
The Wildcats showed off their power in the Manhattan (Kan.) Regional opener.
Kansas State beat up No. 4 Wichita State at Tointon Family Stadium on Friday afternoon, rolling to a 20-11 win to move into today’s winner’s bracket game. The Wildcats gave up two runs in the top of the first inning, but shrugged it off by scoring nine of their own off three different pitchers in the bottom of the inning.
“We were playing against a very good hitting team,” Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson said. “They had no weaknesses in their lineup. We knew that already. You’re going to have to pitch well and you’re going to have to play great defense.”
The Shockers didn’t help their cause. Wichita State’s pitchers combined to issue nine walks and hit six batters in its NCAA Tournament opener. Kansas State took advantage of the free base runners, getting 19 hits as well. It included two home runs from leadoff hitter Ross Kivett, who is the Big 12 Player of the Year.
Kansas State chased starter Cale Elam could only record one out before being lifted by Stephenson. He was replaced by Albert Minnis, who also lasted 1/3 of an inning.
“We take pride in getting after good pitching,” said Kivett, who finished 4-for-5 with 4 RBIs and 4 runs. “As an offense, our goal was to get to (Elam) early and we did. When we got Minnis out of there too, that kind of sparked it.
“We knew it was going to be a boat race.”
Kansas State’s previous season-high for runs came in a 15-2 win against Texas Tech on April 6. The 20 runs also were the most Wichita State, which returned to a regional for the first time since 2009, have ever allowed in the NCAA Tournament.
It may be difficult to put up 20 runs again, but Kansas State outfielder Tanner Witt said the Wildcats’ confidence at the plate will continue this weekend.
“Having that plate discipline and quality at-bats up and down the lineup is who we are and why we are here,” Witt said. “All we need to do is keep those at-bats going and hopefully we’ve proven to some people that we can hit on the national stage.”
Arkansas pitcher Barrett Astin has been solid in the Friday night spot all season, but entered the regional with just a 4-4 record. The reason? The Razorbacks have failed to score runs in the majority of his starts since moving into the role.
It started well for Astin, who was on the mound for a 15-3 win against South Carolina and a 5-4 win against Mississippi State. But the Razorbacks have failed to score more than three runs in the rest of his starts.
The streak reached nine straight starts in Arkansas’ 4-1 loss on Friday night.
Arkansas has averaged two runs a game in Astin’s past nine starts.
“We get great outings from Barrett, but we don’t score for him,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “A lot of time he gets no decision. I think his record is 4-4 on the year and he could easily have 8, 9, 10 wins. He’s always going up against somebody else’s guy matching him pitch or pitch late in the game. Just like (Friday tonight).”
Arkansas’ hitting woes continued Friday night. But the Razorbacks will get one more chance to relieve the problems against a pitching staff that was battered Friday.
Wichita State surrendered 20 runs in the loss to Kansas State. Seven pitchers stepped on the mound and all but Daniel Kihle – who threw the final 2/3 of an inning — surrendered at least one run.
Stephenson said he can only hope the struggles don’t continue against the Hogs.
“That is about as poor as we can pitch,” Stephenson said. “Unless we do worse (today). … Our pitchers looked nervous to me and I do not like the way we looked at all. Hopefully we will be better (today).”
Farris Back in Lineup
Freshman Jordan Farris returned to the lineup after not starting the final two games of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said earlier this week he planned to play Farris to have his best defensive lineup on the synthetic turf at Kansas State.
Farris sat down last week after struggling at the plate. He entered the regional 4-for-37 (.108) in his previous 11 games, which dropped his batting average from .305 to .229. But Farris said his confidence wasn’t shaken earlier this week.
“I was kind of in my head a little bit and it gave me time to relax and just calm down out there and slow the game down and get back in it,” Farris said. “I think I was putting too much pressure on myself, thinking too much up there. It was time to get in the cages and work on what I need to work and quit thinking.”
Farris didn’t have a good night Friday. He struck out his three at-bats and also committed an error in the sixth inning, which led to Bryant’s game-tying run.
Kansas State and Wichita State provided plenty of fireworks in the first inning of the regional opener, combining to score 11 runs. The first between Arkansas and Bryant went much quicker in the nightcap.
Arkansas starter Barrett Astin allowed two singles, but didn’t give up a run. Bryant starter Peter Kelich retired the Razorbacks in order.
The quick play prompted the official scorer at Tointon Family Stadium to announce the first inning was 32 minutes shorter than the start to the opening game.
Arkansas was not alone on a frustrating night for the Southeastern Conference.
Five of the nine SEC teams that reached the NCAA Tournament lost their regional openers. All five of the losses came from teams that traveled to regional’s (Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss and Texas A&M).
Home teams Mississippi State, South Carolina, LSU and Vanderbilt won Friday.
Kansas State enjoyed a win in its NCAA Tournament opener, but coach Brad Hill didn’t exactly like what he saw in the 20-11 win.
“That was kind of ugly,” Hill said. “It wasn’t a good game either way. Ugly. We won. That’s the big thing about it. Offensively we did a tremendous job of covering us (Friday). I don’t think either team wanted to be out there that long or play that way.”
Kansas State starter Levi MaVorhis only last two innings, allowing four runs on four hits. The Wildcats had to use five pitchers to get through the game that spanned 3 hours, 33 minutes.
“Do not get me wrong, I am an offensive guy,” Hill said. “I love 20 runs. I just hate giving up 11.”