Wildcats Take Potentially Pivotal Big 12 Set…
By CB360 Contributor John Kurtz
It was a huge weekend for Kansas State, with its sweep of Texas Tech at Tointon Family Stadium. It was a tight series all the way with K-State’s wins coming 2-1, 4-3 and 4-1. Things really seem to be turning around for the Wildcats after a murderous stretch to start Big 12 Conference play (at Texas, at Baylor, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma) that saw the Cats go 4-8. K-State has now won four of its last six Big 12 games in large part due to a pitching staff that is really coming together.
James Allen saved all three games for the Wildcats this weekend against Texas Tech. With Saturday’s save in the series finale, Allen set the K-State record for season saves (13) and career saves (27). He is also the first Wildcat to save three games in a conference series in the Big 12 era and the first Big 12 closer to do so since 2009. Texas Tech struggled to get anything going against Allen all weekend as he fired three innings and allowed just one hit. Allen has the typical “lights out” attitude that any coach would want in their closer and he seemingly always maintains his composure, even in pressure situations.
Allen may grab the headlines, but his set-up man Evan Marshall was equally as effective and valuable for K-State in the series. Marshall threw 3.1 innings in the series and allowed just one unearned run. Marshall was particularly effective for K-State on Friday and Saturday when he mowed down the Red Raiders without allowing a hit in either appearance.
K-State got solid starts from Shane Conlon and Kyle Hunter on Thursday and Friday to win the series. Conlon, a freshman, has seen most of his time as a defensive replacement at first base this season, but he got the first win on the mound of his Wildcat career Thursday. Matt Applegate stole the show on Saturday by going 7 innings and allowing just one run while striking out 13 Red Raiders. Applegate’s emergence in 2011 (4-2, 3.57 ERA) is a big part of what is keeping K-State in the hunt for another NCAA regional appearance.
Texas Tech’s arms were solid in the series and probably weren’t indicative of being swept. The Red Raiders got by on Thursday with David Paiz giving up just 2 earned runs and were in a good position to win the game. The bats didn’t respond though and Tech fell 2-1. Friday starter Trey Masek struggled and gave up 4 earned runs in 5 innings, but Robbie Kilcrease shutout K-State through the final three innings to give the Red Raiders a chance. One bad inning on Saturday doomed Tech starter Brennan Stewart in the 4-1 Wildcat win to complete the sweep.
Kansas State kept Jamodrick McGruder in check throughout the weekend, though he did produce three hits in the series. Barrett Barnes had a hit and an RBI through the first two games of the series, but was held out of the lineup on Saturday. Just speculation here, but it was likely due to a rough spill Barnes took against the center field wall while making a spectacular catch on Friday night. Barnes clearly has the speed and talent in center to be a force.
This was a huge series for the NCAA regional hopes of both Texas Tech and K-State. The Wildcats shot up three spots in the Big 12 standings to 6th at 8-10 in league play thanks to the sweep. In the process they passed the Red Raiders, who are now 6-12 in the conference. Texas Tech clearly has plenty of work left to do and not salvaging a game from this series was a big blow.
KSU meanwhile is looking like the team that many expected this year in Manhattan after surviving a very sluggish start. The Cats’ pitching staff is really coming around as a whole and K-State is winning with pitching, defense and base running. K-State needs to continue to win games and a lack of pop in the lineup may hold them back, but things are looking much better for Brad Hill and the Wildcats than they did a week ago.