It was a wild trip west for the midweek series for Kansas State, as the Wildcats and the Falcons of Air Force combined for an astonishing fifty two (52) runs between the two games. The two split the series, which opened home-field play for Air Force for the season, with K-State (18-9) winning 12-9 on Tuesday, and the Falcons (10-16) picking up an 18-13 decision on Wednesday to earn their first home win of the season.
On Tuesday, the Cats plated three in the top of the 2nd, but trailed 3-8 headed into the top of the 6th. Each squad tacked on one more run the inning, then K-State exploded with a 4-run 7th off one swing from Cole Johnson that cleared the left-field wall with the bases loaded to close the gap to 8-9. Then the Cats put up a 3-run 8th to take the lead thanks to a run off a balk and a two-run homerun from Nick Goodwin. Roberto Pena tacked on one more insurance run in the 9th with a RBI double. Tyson Neighbors picked up his fourth save of the season, this time a two-inning save that featured three strikeouts to just one walk against eight batters.
Wednesday was a day for the bats of both teams, and lots of pitchers. No pitcher for either team lasted more than two innings credited, with K-State sending five to the mound and Air Force six. The Falcons struck first again, plating just one in the 1st, and the Cats tied things up in the top of the 3rd. But then things went bananas. The Falcons scored five runs in the 3rd, four earned, and then put up two runs in the 4th and 5th each to take a 10-2 lead into the 6th. K-State finally came alive in the 6th, and put up five runs to close the gap to 10-7, but Air Force answered with five runs of their own in the 6th. Each team then carded three runs in the 7th to give the Falcons a 18-10 lead, but three more runs in the 8th for K-State were just not enough to close the gap. For the batters, it was a great day, with Pena carding five RBI, and Kaelen Culpepper, who made his return to the lineup this week after missing a couple due to a hand injury, carded three RBI while snagging three walks.
K-State returns to action on Friday at Tointon Family Stadium against #24 West Virginia, who will be in their Big 12 opener as the last team to get conference play underway. Friday’s first pitch is set for 6pm CT, with Saturday’s at 4pm CT, and Sunday’s finale at 1pm CT. All three games will be available on Big 12 Now on ESPN+, with audio on KMAN in Manhattan and streaming at KStateSports.com.
After a two-year career in Manhattan, Ish Massoud has announced that he will graduate this May (yay) and enter the transfer portal as a grad transfer with one season remaining (dang). Massoud had an up-and-down career at K-State after transferring in under Bruce Weber. He was a regular starter in the 2021-22 season, averaging 24 minutes per game in Weber’s final season. But under Jerome Tang, Massoud’s minutes fell quickly to start the season, but slowly ramped back up during Big 12 play, where he earned the nicknames like “Big 12 Ish” and “SwIsh Massoud” for hitting several key 3pt shots during big games in conference play. His best game of the season came at the end, with a 15-point performance against Michigan State that included the dagger baseline jumper late in overtime that closed the curtains on the Spartans.
Massoud becomes the first Wildcat in the portal this offseason, and opens a third scholarship spot for Tang and staff to fill this offseason. As a refresher, the Cats already have a Top 30 (#28 On3, #25 Rivals, #20 247) high school recruiting class coming in with consensus 4-star guards Dai Dai Ames (PG) and RJ Jones (SG) as well as 4/3-star forward Macaleab Rich. Expect the staff to fill those spots from the transfer portal, while being very selective in doing so. One of the additions needs to be a veteran point guard to both help replace some of what is lost with the graduation of Markquis Nowell, while helping bridge the gap for Ames.
With that kind of intake, and the return of many significant parts of the Elite Eight run (despite losing a ton of scoring and all of Nowell’s assists), there is significant optimism about the future for K-State basketball as we head into Jerome Tang’s first full offseason with the Wildcats. Of course, the biggest change from last season will be that the staff can spend more of the spring and summer periods actually working with their team on basketball instead of scouring the portal just to fill the roster. And development is still needed, especially for breakout star Nae’Qwan Tomlin, who has all the tools necessary to be an elite player, but needs to work out using all of them more consistently.
After the first spring practice that was open to the media this session, the K-State offensive coaches met with the media for the first time since the Sugar Bowl. Of course, Collin Klein was asked about what brought him back to K-State after receiving, and nearly taking, the offer to be offensive coordinator at Notre Dame. Klein said his work wasn’t finished yet in Manhattan, and he was ready to build on what the started last season with “[his] guys”.
Klein returns to lead a group that includes 2022 breakout star Will Howard, as well as former 4-star recruit Jake Rubley, Adryan Lara, and much-heralded incoming freshman Avery Johnson. Of course Howard is inked in as the starter, so the competition is for the backup spot. Rubley has the leg up, but Lara has a big arm and Johnson has “the best wheels of the group”.
Kellis Robinett also posted three observations from the open practice, and led off with a rave review of the new practice facility. Of course it wasn’t the first time the media has been in the facility, but it was the first time seeing a regular practice in there, and the enhancements created by the new facility really stood out.