We’ll get to last weekend’s series in a second, but first it was announced on Wednesday that K-State’s sophomore catcher Raphael Pelletier has been named to 2023 Buster Posey National Collegiate Catcher of the Year Watch List. Previously known as the Johnny Bench Award, the Buster Posey Award honors the nation’s top NCAA Division I catcher. Pelletier has a league-leading 15 runners-caught-stealing this season for an impressive .516 SBA percentage to go along with a .993 fielding percentage. The watch list will be narrowed to semifinalists, who will be announced May 22nd before the finalists are declared June 6th. A final vote among the national committee will occur during the College World Series with the winner being revealed on June 29th.
The BatCats picked up a very important sweep last weekend, taking three straight from Ohio Valley Conference leader Southeast Missouri State that both pushed the Cats over 30 wins for the season as well as help keep K-State’s NCAA Regional hopes alive.
Friday night’s game was relatively quiet, with the BatCats picking up a 2-1 victory thanks to Owen Boerema’s 7.1 innings of solid work where he gave up just the one run on three hits and three free bases to the visitors. Tyson Neighbors picked up his ninth save of the season completing the final 1.2 innings, tossing four strikeouts to six batters faced.
Saturday, the bats came alive for the hosts, as K-State outpaced the Redhawks 12-5 to take the series victory. The BatCats put up five runs in the 2nd thanks to four runs earned off one swing of Brendan Jones’ bat, as he hit his second grand slam of the season. And it was a team long-ball day as three Cats sent one out in the victory as Jones was joined over the fence by Kaelen Culpepper and Roberto Pena — who recorded his second multi-homer game of the year. The four homers brought the season total to 66 which ranks fourth all-time in school history.
Sunday’s finale was all K-State, as the BatCats sped off to a 10-0 run-ruled victory to complete the sweep. It was again a day focused on the long-ball with four players hitting homeruns in the rout, with Cash Rugley, Nick Goodwin, Brendan Jones, and Cole Johnson giving K-State 70 homeruns on the season. Goodwin’s 2-run blast in the 2nd was the 32nd of his career, moving the Overland Park native into a tie for fourth all-time at K-State.
With the non-conference slate finally complete, Kansas State has just two more weekend series left, against Oklahoma State in Stillwater this weekend, and against TCU in Manhattan next weekend to close out the regular season. After this past weekend, K-State is firmly on the right side of the bubble for an NCAA Regional berth, but needs to avoid a sweep in Stillwater if they want to lock-in that position.
But it’s not just the postseason the Cats have their eye on. If K-State can pull off the upset and grab the series in Stillwater (or even a sweep), and can get some help from Texas Tech (who plays WVU this weekend), the Cats can move into a tie, or even the lead in the Big 12 standings. There’s still a chance for lots of big things for this squad.
This weekend’s series against OSU gets underway on Friday at 6pm from O’Brate Stadium in Stillwater. You can watch the action on Big 12 Now on ESPN+, or you can catch the K-State radio broadcast online at kstatesports.com or over the air in Manhattan on KMAN (1350AM/93.3/93.7).
Ahead of the NBA Combine next week, K-State All-American and Bob Cousey Award-winning point guard Markquis Nowell has been invited to the 2023 NBA G League Elite Camp. The camp gives prospects the chance to display their skills in front of both NBA and NBA G League scouts, coaches, and front office executives. Elite performances at the camp, which include 5v5 games as well as individual drills, can garner a player an invite to the NBA Combine. The G League Elite Camp runs this weekend, May 13th & 14th at Wintrust Arena in Chiacgo.
But no waiting on an NBA Combine invite for Keyontae Johnson, as the talented wing has already been selected for the NBA’s prime pre-draft interview and skills showcase event set for May 15th-21st in Chicago. Johnson was one of 78 players invited to the event, including being among eight Big 12 players, and is the first Wildcat to earn an invitation to the Draft Combine since Wesley Iwundu in 2017. Despite getting further along in the process, Johnson (and Nae’Qwan Tomlin) still has until May 31st to decide whether or not to keep his name in the draft pool or return to K-State for one more season. Despite it not being likely, there is precedent, as Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe declined to stay in the draft pool last season to return to Kentucky.
Jeff Mittie has picked up two very high-profile transfers for his program, both from Louisville, in the last couple weeks. Last week it was Wichita native Zyanna Walker who decided to transfer closer to home. Walker, a 6’0 guard, was a highly-rated recruit (#15 in the nation by Prep Girls Hoops and #38 overall by espnW HoopGurlz) out of Wichita Heights for the 2022 class, but chose to head to Louisville for her first season. Walker played in just five games for the Cardinals, and will be expected to see quite a bit more action for the Wildcats.
The second addition came earlier this week, as Imani Lester, a 6’3 forward, was officially announced by the Wildcats. The North Carolina native was also nationally rated (#57 overall by espnW HoopGurlz) in the 2022 class, but saw no action for Louisville this season, and comes to K-State with four years of eligibility remaining.
With the additions of Walker and Lester, as well as the three highly-rated incoming freshmen Taryn Sides, Alexis Hess, and JaMia Harris, Jeff Mittie will have 15 on the roster next season with three seniors, four juniors, four sophomores, and four freshmen. Presumably, ultra-seniors Gabby Gregory and Ayoka Lee do not count towards the 13-scholarship maximum.
It took longer than expected, but Chris Klieman is finally getting his big extension and raise. As reported at the beginning of the week, Klieman and K-State Athletics are finalizing a deal that will pay the Big 12 Championship head coach $44 million over the next eight years, extending his current contract through the 2030 season with an average salary of $5.5 million. Klieman’s 2023 salary will be $4.5 million, a million-dollar raise from last season and over a half-million raise from what his current contract calls for in 2023. The deal signals a long-term commitment from both K-State and Klieman, who received some significant interest from Nebraska this offseason, and shows K-State’s commitment to doing what it takes to keep it’s high-quality coaches happy and wanting to stay in Manhattan.