This year’s Manhattan Regional could turn out to be the toughest in the country, highlighted by a possible matchup of the No. 2 offense in the country, Kansas State, against the nation’s best pitching staff, in Arkansas. The seeds:
- #14 Kansas State (41-17, 16-8); Big 12 Regular Season Champs
- #17 Arkansas (37-20, 18-11); 2nd in SEC West
- #30 Bryant (44-16-1, 27-5); NEC Regular Season and Tournament Champs
- NR Wichita State (39-26, 15-6); Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Champs
No. 1 Kansas State
Pretty much nothing happened the way it was expected to this season in the Big 12. With the exception of Oklahoma winning the Big 12 Tournament, the pre-season selections to finish 2nd and 3rd (TCU and Texas, respectively) finished the season in 7th and last place, respectively. The pre-season selection to finish in seventh place, Kansas State, on the other hand, dominated conference play to the tune of a 16-8 record and finish with their first outright Big 12 title in school history. It is because of this that the Wildcats will be hosting their first ever regional in Manhattan this weekend.
K-State (41-17, 16-8), who finished the year with a #14 ranking in the NCBWA poll, was an offensive juggernaut this season. Their .323 batting average as a team was 38 points higher than second place Oklahoma State (.285), and the second highest in the country. The Wildcats led the Big 12 in runs scored, hits, OBP, SLG, and triples. The ‘Cats are led offensively by Big 12 Player of the Year Ross Kivett. The junior second baseman hit a team-best .356 with 13 doubles, 4 triples and 47 runs scored, in addition to swiping 26 stolen bases on the season. Kansas State had seven first-team All-Big 12 selections, the most of any team this season, as well as snagging the Freshman of the Year award (reliever Jake Matthys) and Coach of the Year award for Brad Hill. If Kansas State has had a weakness this year, it would be due to inconsistency from their starting pitching. The Wildcats have used six different weekend starters and a different starting rotation in almost every conference series over the final two months of the season. This came back to hurt the Wildcats in the Big 12 tournament when no Wildcat starter went longer than 5.1 innings and the ‘Cats were eliminated in pool play.
Players to Watch:
2B Ross Kivett, .356, 47 R, 13 2B, 4 3B, 26 SB
CF Jared King, .337, 14 2B, 6 HR, 48 RBI
1B Shane Conlon, .345, 53 R, 12 2B, 3 3B, 7 HR, 28 RBI
SS Austin Fisher, .356, 18 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 34 RBI
RHP Jake Matthys, 8-1, 7 SV, 2.13 ERA, 50.2 IP, 8 BB, 35 K
No. 2 Arkansas
Unfortunately for K-State, the No. 2 seed in this regional is their polar opposite in every way. #17 Arkansas (37-20, 18-11) finished the year with the lowest team ERA in the country (by a significant margin) as the Razorback hurlers combined for an incomprehensible 1.87 ERA as a team. The pitcher with the highest ERA on the Razorbacks’ staff is freshman Trey Killian, who sports a relatively abysmal 3.19 ERA. (To put things in perspective this would be the lowest ERA for any starter on Kansas State). The starting rotation of juniors Ryne Stanek and Barrett Astin and senior Randall Fant have combined for an ERA of just 1.73 on the season. Of course, all things being equal, the Razorbacks have struggled at the plate, managing just a .260 batting average. The Hogs are led by sophomore third baseman Brian Anderson who is hitting .338 with 12 doubles, 5 triples, four homeruns and 33 RBI. However Anderson is the only hitter batting above .300 and the Razorbacks ranked fourth to last in hitting in the SEC. In a tournament format, a deep pitching staff can take a team a long way. This theory will definitely be tested should both Arkansas and K-State make it through their first round games, setting up a match-up of the second best hitting team in the country with the best pitching team in all of college baseball.
Players to Watch:
3B Brian Anderson, .338, 12 2B, 5 3B, 4 HR, 33 RBI
RHP Ryne Stanek, 9-1, 1.40 ERA, 90 IP, 35 BB, 76 K
LHP Randall Fant, 5-1, 1.92 ERA, 61 IP, 17 BB, 49 K
RHP Barrett Astin, 4-4, 1.94 ERA, 83.2 IP, 20 BB, 67 K
LHP Michael Gunn, 1-0, 0.67 ERA, 27 IP, 6 BB, 33 K, .126 OBA
No. 3 Bryant
The Razorbacks will have the task of playing the NEC champs, #30 Bryant University. The Bulldogs (44-16-1, 27-5), blew through their Northeast Conference opponents, leading their conference in hitting (.289), pitching (2.63 ERA) and fielding (.975). On the mound, BU is anchored by junior right-hander Peter Kelich (7-4, 2.53 ERA, 92.2 IP, 18 BB, 83 K) and junior righty Craig Schlitter who led all NEC pitchers with a 10-3 record, and went 7-0 with a 0.81 ERA in conference games. At the plate, senior third baseman, and NEC Player of the Year, Kevin Brown is third in the NEC with a .368 average, tallying 16 doubles, two triples, six homeruns and 46 runs batted in. While the Bulldogs have dominated their conference, they have struggled against non-conference opponents, going 17-11-1 including a seven game winless streak to start the season. This included a four-game sweep at Oregon State in which Bryant was outscored 26-4. The Bulldog’s strength of schedule was 262 (out of 298) and the NEC RPI as a conference was 26th out of 32, according to Boyd’s. While some may see Bryant as this year’s Stony Brook, that prediction may soon go out the window as soon as the Bulldogs step on the field against Arkansas on Friday evening.
Players to Watch:
CF Carl Anderson, .340, 9 2B, 2 HR, 47 RBI, 19 SB
3B Kevin Brown, .368, 16 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 46 RBI, 47 R
RHP Craig Schlitter, 10-3, 2.53 ERA, 78.1 IP, 16 BB, 74 K
RHP Peter Kelich, 7-4, 2.53 ERA, 92.2 IP, 18 BB, 83 K
No. 4 Wichita State
The Wildcats will face in-state rival Wichita State (39-26, 15-6) Friday at 2pm CST. The Champions of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament sealed their first trip to the regionals in four years by besting regular season champs Illinois State 5-2 on Saturday. The Shockers led the Valley in hitting with a .294 team batting average and were second in the conference in pitching with a 3.31 ERA. The Shox are led offensively by junior Garrett Bayliff, who hit .389 during the regular season, and sophomore first baseman Casey Gillaspie who led the MVC with 10 homeruns. WSU got off to a slow start this season, getting swept by Pittsburgh and Long Beach State and losing three of four at Hawaii before catching their stride during conference play. The Shockers have played Kansas State twice this year, losing both contests. The Wildcats came back from down 6-1 in the eighth at home against on April 9th in Manhattan, and scored on a walk-off passed ball to beat WSU 7-6. The following week the two teams played in Wichita, with KSU taking that game by a score of 4-1. Of course, those games being mid-week games, K-State had the good fortune of not facing the Shockers’ Friday night starter Cale Elam (7-4, 2.60 ERA) who has been the one constant for the Shox on the mound this season. That being said, the Shockers received excellent pitching during the MVC tournament from starters Garrett Brummet and Kris Gardner (combined 14.0 shutout innings) that could allow them to be perhaps the most dangerous No. 4 seed in the entire tournament.
Players to Watch:
RF Garrett Bayliff, .389, 41 R, 9 2B, 39 RBI, 11 SB
C Tyler Baker, .331, 13 2B, 3 3B, 4 HR, 46 RBI
1B Casey Gillaspie, .300, 15 2B, 10 HR, 42 RBI
RHP Cale Elam, 7-4, 2.60 ERA, 93.1 IP 29 BB, 74 K
RHP Brandon Peterson, 10 SV, 3-1, 1.15 ERA, 39.0 IP, 15 BB, 40 K
Kansas State has been able to succeed this season based on the strength of its hitting in a conference that has experienced a talent vacuum on the mound over the past few seasons. Unfortunately, in a tournament format, teams want to be deep on the mound and we saw this come back to bite the Wildcats in the Big 12 Conference Tournament. Similarly, K-State’s lack of any ace on the mound makes for a poor match-up against a team like Wichita State who could be able to land a big upset in their first game, especially considering that the two games these teams played earlier in the year were so close. Arkansas on the other hand appears primed for a run to Omaha, even if that means they have to win every game by a score of 1-0. Expect Bryant to struggle against top-flight opponents from the SEC, Big 12, and MVC.
- Arkansas (Advances to Super Regional against winner of Corvallis Regional)
- Kansas State
- Wichita State