Kansas State University

K-State looks for Big 12 tourney run

Kansas State baseball coach Brad Hill chuckles at the question.

Are the Wildcats going to make the NCAA Tournament?

"I haven't thought a lot about that yet," Hill said. "I just got done thinking about making the Big 12 Tournament."

Such is life for Hill and every player on the K-State roster right now. For weeks, the Wildcats lingered near the bottom of the conference standings, wondering if they would win enough games to finish in the top eight and qualify for the league's championship event.

Now, they enter today's 7:30 p.m. first pitch against Oklahoma as the tournament's No. 6 seed, with their focus on a bigger and better goal: A third consecutive regional berth.

"We were playing for our lives last weekend and, in a way, we are again here," Hill said. "We had to beat KU a couple of games. We were fortunate enough to beat them three times. A good tournament could lead to a regional, but I have to believe that if we lose two straight we will be on the outside looking in. If we get a couple wins, though, I would think our chances improve tremendously."

Most experts currently consider K-State to be on the bubble of the field of 64 with an RPI in the mid-40s and a record of34-21.

The Wildcats closed out the season by winning six of seven, including a sweep of Kansas in which K-State scored more than 10 runs in each game.

"Right now, I'd say this is the best we've played all year," said K-State senior Kent Urban. "If you look at us as whole, we're playing with a lot of confidence."

Especially at the plate. The Wildcats have averaged 10 runs over their last seven games. There's a reason for that. With the games taking on an added importance, K-State hitters have collectively changed their hitting approach.

"A lot of people are taking a lot of walks now," Urban said. "We're having a lot of good, disciplined at-bats. Earlier in the year we were being ultra-aggressive. As a hitter you always want to be pretty aggressive, but there are times to be aggressive and times to be smart. I think we've been a lot more disciplined at the plate and this weekend it paid off for us. We're getting some big, key hits now, which we weren't really getting earlier in the year."

An unexpected hitter has led the way. Freshman Jared King, who along with his brother Jason was a second-team All-Big 12 selection, hit .333 with 20 RBIs and four home runs during Big 12 games. He was the Wildcats' top hitter and complemented 2010 Big 12 player of the year Nick Martini _ an honorable mention All-Big 12 pick this season _ and his brother in the lineup.

"King is tearing the cover off the ball," Urban said. "The last three weeks it seems like you can't get him out."

On the mound, K-State can turn to All-Big 12 relief pitcher James Allen to close out games, a key with two top 15 teams in Oklahoma and Texas A&M on the Wildcats' side of the bracket.

K-State managed wins against both teams in the regular season, both in Manhattan. Winning in a neutral setting will be more difficult.

"This is a whole different animal now," Hill said. "The pitching in our bracket is going to be extremely tough."

But not unbeatable.

"I just want our guys to keep the mindset they had against KU," Hill said. "I can't hope for anything more than that. If they can do that, we can hit our higher expectations, and that's to keep playing for a couple more weeks."