MANHATTAN — When the initial excitement of making it a third straight NCAA Tournament began to fade, Jason King just grinned.
Thanks to a late-season offensive surge, the junior third baseman and his Kansas State teammates found out Monday they will head to the Fullerton, Calif., regional with a No. 3 seed and will play Stanford at 6 p.m. on Friday.
"What a cool opportunity to go to California and play against the programs we're going to get to play against," King said. "Shoot, what else could you really ask for? Especially after battling through so much adversity, to get awarded with something like this is really cool."
K-State will certainly be in good company in its four-team pod; along with traditional powers Cal State-Fullerton and Stanford, Illinois also heads west.
After a three-game sweep of Kansas and two big wins over Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament, K-State had high hopes it would also see its name flash on screen during ESPN's selection show. But its record (36-23) conference finish (6th) and RPI (48) made it a bubble team.
"We started the year with expectations that we were going to be there," K-State coach Brad Hill said. "And then having to play your way into the Big 12 Tournament, you really don't know what is going to happen."
In the end, Hill thought K-State's hot finish and the strength of the Big 12 were what pushed the Wildcats into the field of 64.
"Just to play another week," said senior Kent Urban. "Continuing the season another week, with this being my senior year, there is a lot of joy and a lot of happiness."
K-State has never advanced to a Super Regional.
"We made a regional the last three years. We know what to expect," Urban said. "We're just trying to get past that step and do some damage in this thing."
In order for that to happen, K-State will need to be disciplined. Cal State-Fullerton and Stanford are both known for their focus on fundamentals and prefer to play small ball.
That will be different from what the Wildcats have faced of late, but that doesn't bother them. K-State simply wants to keep playing. If it has learned anything from the last few weeks, it's that anything can happen as long as games remain on the schedule.
"It would have been a huge disappointment after making it two years in a row to go back to not making it that would have been a hard pill to swallow," King said. "I'm glad the last 10 days we were able to put it together and really peak at the right time... We just need to keep doing what we've been doing.