K-State Baseball: The Turnaround, Part 1

Those seem like a distant memory this year. - PurpleKansas

K-State baseball turned a corner in the 2014 season, but it definitely was the wrong one.

This is not like most turnaround stories. Most turnaround stories involve going from being one of the worst to one of the best. But the story of 2014 K-State Baseball is the other kind of turnaround, the sad kind, the kind that cause headaches, the kind that leave sour feelings. The story of the turnaround of K-State Baseball is that of being the best in 2013 to being the worst in 2014. The problem is, it shouldn't have been that way.

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Where to begin? What went wrong with a team that returned the Big 12 Player of the Year, coached by the reigning Big 12 Coach of the Year?

This team returned enough for blind optimism, for dreams of a possible repeat title. This team was supposed to make the hold-serve stories of football and men’s basketball look like the weak-links of the season.

We were destined for another NCAA tournament berth. We dreamed of our first trip to Omaha. We believed our team was set for great things.

Well, before we begin to determine just what went wrong, let us take a brief look at the season that was.

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The 2014 Season

February:

The Wildcats began the season, as is usual for February, in a warmer climate than Manhattan, KS. This year, that season-opening trip was to southern California and San Luis Obispo, followed by a trip up to God’s Own Latitude and San Francisco (oh, you didn’t know San Fran was less than two degrees of latitude south of Manhattan? It’s further north than Wichita...).

Well, that road trip foreshadowed the rest of the season, and the BatCats limped home sporting a 1-7 record, and a supreme loss of confidence.

Weather, as it is wont to do in Manhattan in February, decided to make things difficult for our boys on the diamond. The Cats were forced to cancel their home-opening series with UW-Milwaukee, but were fortunate to find an in-season replacement and headed south to Abilene, Texas for an impromptu series.

The Wildcats ended February with a win, but still showed a sour record at 2-7.

March:
Oh, if the whole season was March.

March started well for the BatCats, cleaning up in their series in the Lone Star State, and returned to Manhattan on a three-game win streak. The Cats didn’t stop there, sweeping the (finally!) home-opening season against a then-ranked Iowa squad. Through the first half of March the Wildcats looked invincible, posting three shutouts (including a complete-game dominating pitching performance from Sophomore Levi MaVorhis), and five games where the BatCats put up double-digits in the run column (including one 24-run outburst).

But then the Wildcats had to leave the friendly confines of Tointon Family Stadium and its literal thousands of Wildcat supporters. The Wildcats took their 12-game win-streak into Norman, but returned to Manhattan with a 1-2 start to conference play. That one win though featured another complete-game dominating pitching performance, this time from redshirt freshman Nate Griep in his first weekend start.

The next weeks featured games against Nebraska schools in Manhattan, before a road trip to Omaha. The Wildcats went 3-2 against the Nebraska schools, including a baffling 10-inning loss to Nebraska-Omaha to start April and finish the road trip that saw last season’s ace closer Jake Matthys fall apart.

The Wildcats ended March 17-10, going 15-4 during the month.

April:
Spirits were still high as the boys from the school down the river came to Manhattan for a weekend series. The Wildcats looked good in the opener, blanking the Jayhawks 10-0 as MaVorhis again went nine innings for the shutout. But the Wildcats were unable to follow up as the BatCats fell silent, being outscored 8-4 in the final two games. The Saturday loss was the first for the Wildcats at home since the beginning of the 2013 season, and the series loss was the first home series loss since 2012. And in the final insult, it was the first series loss to KU since 2006, before the Wildcats recent run of baseball success.

Things only got worse from there. Non-conference opponents were still falling, but conference foes were beginning to have their way with the boys in royal purple. The Wildcats sandwiched their only conference series win, against Baylor in Manhattan, with sweeps by Texas Tech in Lubbock and West Virginia in Morgantown

The Wildcats ended April 23-21 (4-10), going 6-11 in the month.

May:
If you thought things couldn’t get worse, you were sadly mistaken.

The Wildcats opened May with yet another series loss as the Horned Frogs swept the Wildcats in Fort Worth. The series loss sent the Wildcats below the .500 line for the first time since early March.

The Wildcats finally ended their six-game losing streak with an extended series-sweeping win over Wichita State in Wichita, but the Wildcats returned home to a desperate situation.

K-State needed a series win over then-#7 Oklahoma State to squeak into the Big 12 tournament in the final spot (the tournament only takes eight of the nine baseball-playing teams). But the Wildcats couldn’t even manage a single victory in a series sweep that included a mercy-rule-ended Sunday game.

The final series against Texas was meaningless as far as the conference tournament went, but the Wildcats still had seniors to play for. The Wildcats extended their conference loss streak to 11 after the first game, but the Cats battled hard and emerged with their first win over a conference foe in nearly a month on Senior Night. Alas, the season ended as it began, as the Wildcats dropped their final game of the season in a 10-inning game that was a microcosm of the entire season.

The Wildcats finished the season 25-30, 5-19 and failed to make the Big 12 tournament for the first time since 2006. A year after winning K-State’s first title since 1933, the Wildcats fell hard to the bottom of the order. This story eerily mimics the story of K-State football from a decade ago.

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Check out Part 2 later this week for analysis, commentary, and a look ahead…

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