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K-State ready for battle in NCAA regional

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, May 27, 2013, at 5:17 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, May 28, 2013, at 2:36 p.m.

MANHATTAN REGIONAL

No. 1 Kansas State

Record: 41-17

Coach: Brad Hill

How qualified: At-large

RPI: No. 20

Fast fact: The Wildcats lead the Big 12 with a .323 batting average and a .443 slugging percentage.

No. 2 Arkansas

Record: 37-20

Coach: Dave Van Horn

How qualified: At-large

RPI: No. 31

Fast fact: Center fielder Matt Vinson orally committed to Wichita State before changing his mind.

No. 3 Bryant

Record: 44-16-1

Coach: Steve Owens

How qualified: Automatic bid (Northeast Conference)

RPI: No. 46

Fast fact: Bryant, located in Smithfield, R.I., is making its first NCAA appearance.

No. 4 Wichita State

Record: 39-26

Coach: Gene Stephenson

How qualified: Automatic bid (Missouri Valley Conference)

RPI: No. 102

Fast fact: The Shockers are fielding .977, ranked No. 18 nationally.

— The first NCAA Regional at Tointon Family Stadium will be filled with familiar teams.

Arkansas, Wichita State and Bryant will join host Kansas State in the four-team pod, with double-elimination competition beginning at 2 p.m. Friday. The No. 1 seed Wildcats will take on the No. 4 seed Shockers in the opening game, and action will continue until Monday, if necessary.

For K-State, there was a lot to like about the NCAA Tournament’s 64-team bracket, which was announced Monday morning. It already knew it would host games, but it didn’t know who it would play in the Manhattan Regional. Players reacted positively when they saw their future opponents.

The Wildcats play the Shockers twice every season, and swept both games this year. They also saw No. 2 seed Arkansas up close at the Fayetteville Regional in 2010.

“Wichita State, they are used to this and have been for a long time,” K-State coach Brad Hill said. “Arkansas has great tradition. They are a great team down there. Bryant, we don’t know much about, but the other two teams have a lot of tradition behind them.”

The Razorbacks should pose the biggest challenge. They won 37 games this season and are currently ranked in the top 15. Some thought they would host a regional. It didn’t happen, but they have a history of advancing to Super Regionals and the College World Series regardless of where they start the NCAA Tournament.

No. 3 seed Bryant is less regarded and from a smaller conference, but is capable of pulling an upset. It won 44 games this year.

But K-State will have to deal with Wichita State before it takes on either of those teams. Players admit meeting an in-state rival in the postseason will feel a little strange, but they are also excited about the matchup.

“Wichita State is a tough team,” second baseman Ross Kivett said. “I think that we are not going to focus on the other two teams, which are very good teams, until we play Wichita State. I think it is an advantage playing them twice already, but they are going to think it is an advantage playing us twice already. It’s going to be a battle, and we are going to have some exciting baseball in Manhattan this weekend.”

Playing extra home games is the most exciting part for the Wildcats. This is their fourth regional appearance under Hill, but they have never advanced to a Super Regional or the College World Series.

Maybe playing at home, where they went 24-7 in the regular season, will help them reach the next step.

“That’s a huge advantage for us,” centerfielder Jared King said, “playing a regional at home in front of your home fans. We feel like part of the next step is getting to the Super Regional. Hopefully we can take care of business.”

It won’t be easy, but the Wildcats are optimistic. After winning the Big 12 regular season championship and establishing themselves as one of the top hitting teams in the nation, they head to the postseason filled with confidence.

They view the Manhattan Regional as a stepping stone to an even bigger stage.

“It would be nice to knock it all out at once this year — host, and move to the Super Regional and then go to Omaha,” Hill said. “If we could knock it all out at once this year it would be great.”

Check Kellis Robinett’s K-Stated blog at blogs.kansas.com/kstated. Reach him at krobinett@wichitaeagle.com.

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