Kansas State baseball coach Brad Hill and leadoff hitter Ross Kivett enjoyed one of the perks that follow a conference championship on Tuesday.
Hill was named Big 12 Coach of the Year, while Kivett won Player of the Year.
For Hill, the award came as no surprise. The Wildcats (39-16, 16-8 Big 12) won their first conference championship since 1933 last weekend and might host a regional in the NCAA Tournament a year after they suffered a losing season and finished tied for last in the league standings. K-State was picked to finish seventh this season.
Hillbecomes the third K-State coach to win Big 12 Coach of the Year honors this academic year, joining football coach Bill Snyder and basketball coach Bruce Weber. K-State is the first school in league history to have its football, men’s basketball and baseball coaches win the award during the same academic year.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Wichita Eagle
“It’s more about the players than me. It’s not that big of a deal for me,” Hill said Tuesday by phone. “It’s a credit to our players and what they accomplished this year. You win awards because you win a lot of games, and you win a lot of games because your players take care of business and are motivated for success.
“That’s what we had this year, man. We had a group of guys who took charge and took over. A coach can’t make players do anything. They have to want to do it and be the focal point of the team. That’s what we had this year, a great group of leaders.”
One of those leaders was Kivett, a junior infielder who led the way for K-State’s offense with a .359 batting average at the top of the order. He also scored 46 runs, hit a home run and had 30 RBIs.
Hill thought junior outfielder Jared King, a .342 hitter who drove in 46 runs, and Austin Fisher, a shortstop who hit .358, also were deserving of the award.
“I thought we had three or four guys who could have won it, but Ross is the kind of guy who leads the charge by leading off for us,” Hill said. “Guys see his passion for the game and how hard he plays. The guys just fall in line behind him. I think he gets respect from other coaches because they see how hard he plays and how good a player he is. All those things combined, I think intangibles probably put him over the top.”
Kivett is the third K-State player to win league Player of the Year honors, joining Craig Wilson (1992) and Nick Martini (2010).
Relief pitcher Jake Matthys was named Freshman of the Year after going 8-0 with a 2.01 ERA. King took Scholar Athlete of the Year honors.
Blair DeBord, Shane Conlon, Tanner Witt, Fisher, Kivett, King and Matthys also were selected to the all-conference team.
Tournament pushed back — The Wildcats were scheduled to open the Big 12 Tournament against Texas Tech on Wednesday in Oklahoma City, but will now play their first game at 12:30 p.m. Thursday. The Big 12 opted to push the tournament back a day because of destructive tornadoes that hit nearby Moore on Monday.
“We debated canceling the tournament in deference to the devastating tragedy in Moore, but were encouraged by Oklahoma City leaders and the Oklahoma City All-Sports Association to go forward,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement. “We believe the tournament can serve as a testament to the strong Oklahoma spirit and the resiliency of the Oklahoma people.”
The tournament will now feature three days of pool play with a championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday. K-State will face Texas Tech on Thursday, Baylor on Friday and Oklahoma on Saturday, all at 12:30 p.m. If the Wildcats win their pool, they will face the winner of West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Kansas and TCU on Sunday.
After watching TV reports from Moore, Hill said he was in favor of the change.
“No one is in the mood to play baseball right now. It is the least of anyone’s concerns,” Hill said. “I’m devastated by watching TV. Your heart goes out to them. You really want to reach out to the people who are affected by this and want to help them.
“I know we are going to do some things tomorrow to try and help out the best we can. I think an extra day would help everyone. The emotions of this thing have been really hard.”