It sure was nice to be home this weekend for the K-State baseball team. Though Monday almost turned into a nightmare.
On Friday night, the BatCats grabbed two runs in the 4th to take a 2-0 lead over the Black Knights of Army, and cruised on to a 4-1 victory in the home opener. Orlando Salinas hit two home runs, and Roberto Pena grabbed another, as the duo combined to bat-in all four of K-State’s runs, with Salinas personally accounting for three runs scored (the two home runs were solo shots, and he was on-base for Pena’s).
Saturday’s matchup against Stonehill College, in their first year of Division 1 after moving up from Division 2, resulted in a wild blowout, with a 9-run 4th and an 11-run 8th fueling the Cats to a 25-3 victory. It was actually a bit of a shaky start, as the Cats fell behind 0-2 through the top of the 3rd to the Skyhawks, but a 3-run bottom of the 3rd pushed the BatCats into the lead for good. Ten different Cats recorded an RBI in the rout, and though there were just two home-runs, one was a three-run smash and the other came with the bases loaded, both in the bottom of the 8th.
Sunday night’s matchup with Army resulted in a football score, with the Cats needing a late push to take back the lead and defeat the Black Knights 14-8. Army jumped out to a 3-0 lead after one, but the Cats came through with crooked numbers in the 2nd and 3rd to pull ahead 5-3. But the Knights weren’t through, and pulled back ahead with three runs in the 5th. Then it was the BatCats turn to answer with three runs in the 6th to take an 8-6 lead, but Army tied things up at 8-8 with a 2-run 7th. But after the stretch it was all K-State, with the Cats posting four runs in the bottom of the 7th to take the lead for good, and two more runs in the 8th for good measure.
Then things got a little scary on Monday. Back against the Skyhawks of Stonehill, who picked up their first D1 win over Army in the Sunday afternoon game at Tointon, knocked around K-State starter Dalton Beck for fours runs in the first inning to take an early 4-0 lead. By the time Tyson Neighbors took the mound in the 6th, the Cats were down 5-0, and looking a bit lost in all phases. But then Neighbors tossed seven strikeouts while facing the minimum (10) in his 3.1 innings, and the BatCats finally came alive in the 7th to post three runs after the stretch, two more in the 8th, and then finally in the bottom of the 9th, the BatCats took their only lead of the game with a bases-loaded single to center by Cole Johnson for a walk-off 6-5 win.
After the weekend of action, K-State is 8-5 on the season and gets the bulk of this week off before returning to action on Friday against Youngstown State in Manhattan to continue this homestand. It’s a “standard” weekend series this time, with Friday’s game set for a 6pm start, Saturday’s at 4pm, and Sunday’s at
12pm CST 1pm CDT. All games will be available on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.
The regular season has wrapped up for all teams, and that means it’s the start of awards season.
It should have been without question, but your 2023 Big 12 Coach of the Year is Jerome Tang, who earned the honor by crafting a team with 11 newcomers to Kansas State, a whole new coaching staff, and overcoming a last-place prediction to finish the regular season at 23-8 and 11-7 in Big 12 play for a 3rd-place finish, and likely sitting on at least a 3-seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Oh, and it was his first season ever as a collegiate head coach after spending nearly two decades as an assistant for Scott Drew at Baylor.
Of course, he couldn’t have done any of that without some stellar playmakers, and Keyontae Johnson and Markquis Nowell both earned First Team All-Big 12 honors, becoming the 14th duo in school history to grace the first team all-conference, and just the second in the Big 12 era joining Dean Wade and Barry Brown’s dual selection in 2019. Johnson was also the unanimous selection for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, and of course was also on the All-Newcomer team. Nowell also graced the Big 12 All-Defensive team, and was just named as a finalist for the 2023 Bob Cousy Point Guard Award. There’s a fan vote component, and voting opens on Friday.
Somewhat surprisingly, Jalen Wilson was the unanimous selection for Big 12 Player of the Year. It was expected that the Kansas forward would win the award, but there was a thought that Keyontae Johnson (or Markquis Nowell) might steal a vote or two.
K-State begins play in the 2023 Big 12 Championships on Thursday, with an 8:30pm (scheduled) matchup with the 6-seed TCU Horned Frogs at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City.
Over on the women’s side, the season may not have been good, but Gabby Gregory was still hard to miss, and picked up First Team All-Big 12 honors for the first time in her career. She was joined by Serena Sundell, as the sophomore picked up her second-straight All-Big 12 Honorable Mention selection. It marks the ninth straight season that the Cats have had two or more players on the post season Big 12 lists.
The women also being play at the 2023 Big 12 Championships on Thursday, with a 5pm matchup versus 8-seed Texas Tech at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City. The Cats enter the postseason at 16-15, 5-13, and need to pick up a win in KC to feel good about taking a bid for the WNIT (they can still go at .500 overall, but may not want to).
Whether you will be in KC for the games or not, the Big 12 has announced a slew of “Entertainment & Fan Experience Enhancements” for the championships. If you’re in KC, there will be events in the Power and Light District and in the T-Mobile center, as well as team-themed food items in the arena for fans (like the “Wabash Cannondog” for K-State). If you’re watching from home/work, there will be additional “behind-the-scenes” content and added live telecasts and streaming options available.
The NFL Combine ended last week, and Julius Brents and Deuce Vaughn both stood out in measurables and in their on-field drills. Brents recorded the longest wingspan ever for a defensive back, and notched the best mark for broad jump and 3-cone drill, and second-best for vertical. Oh, and he looked great in drills. His 40-yard-dash time was a bit “slow” at 4.53s, but he’ll have a chance to improve that at K-State’s Pro Day later this month. “Juju” Brents has been shooting up draft rankings all off season, and his combine numbers continued that trend. Could he rise high enough to end up in Kansas City as the 31st pick?
For Vaughn he set the record for shortest player ever measured at the combine, coming in at 5’5”-flat. But despite his short stature, still put up good numbers in the testing portion, and did some eye-popping things in drills. The size is still going to keep him lower on draft boards, but he did nothing but help solidify that he has NFL talent packed into that shorter frame.