Kansas State University

K-State makes return to field

MANHATTAN — Kansas State's baseball team is hardly a regular in the NCAA Tournament, but Brad Hill sure is getting used to hearing his team's name called on its selection show.

A year after making the first appearance in program history, the Wildcats learned they were headed back to the 64-team event for a second straight season Monday.

"More than anything else we're just excited," Hill said. "We're glad to follow that up from last year.... The way we started the season, there were so many questions. We didn't really know how good we were going to be or who we were going to be. But the kids said, 'This is how we're going to go about our business,' and stayed consistent through most of the season."

Hill wasn't positive that consistency was enough to land the Wildcats a bid heading into the big announcement, though. Despite going 36-20, he spent much of his morning on the Internet reading mock brackets. He got so caught up in the speculation that he said he arrived late to the team's viewing party.

As it turned out he had little to fear. K-State earned a No. 3 seed, and will open up regional play on Friday at 7:05 p.m. in Fayetteville, Ark., against No. 2 seed Washington State.

Other teams in the regional include No. 1 seed Arkansas, which is hosting the double-elimination event, and No. 4 seed Grambling.

"There are some good teams there, obviously," said center fielder Nick Martini, the Big 12 co-Player of the Year. "But we deserve to be there."

The winner will advance to a super regional the following week. Kansas State missed out on that opportunity last year despite winning its first two regional games against Xavier and Rice. This time around, the Wildcats are hoping for more.

"I definitely want to get a step further this year," said senior Adam Muenster. "I don't want to get to the championship game and end up losing."

In order to do that, Hill believes the Wildcats will need to return to their midseason form. It wasn't that long ago that they were winning series against Nebraska and Baylor, and knocking off then top-ranked Texas.

It was that type of play that helped them become one of five teams from the Big 12 _ and the only team from Kansas _ to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

"We know if we do the little things right," Martini said, "we can beat really good teams."

Lately, though, K-State has struggled to win back-to-back games. It closed out its season by losing seven of 11.

"Who's going to get hot for three days?" Hill asked. "Who's going to play good baseball for three days? We have done it early. We haven't necessarily done it here late.

"Now, if you play bad twice before you get three or four wins, you're going to be done for the season."

Senior catcher Daniel Dellasega said he learned the importance of NCAA Tournament games last season. Building off that experience _ and combined with a few days off before the next game _ he figures K-State will be healthy and ready for anything.

"This is an exciting time of year, but it's definitely not over yet," Dellasega said. "We're looking forward to going on and playing well this weekend."