Kansas State junior catcher Blair DeBord is one of 15 catchers nationally who are semifinalists for the Johnny Bench Award, which honors the the best collegiate catcher in the country. Photo courtesy of the Big 12 Conference

Big 12 Spotlight Series: Sooners Only Thing In Way Of K-State Baseball Title

Looking at the Big 12 schedule prior to the start of the college baseball season, the Kansas State-Oklahoma matchup in the regular-season final series had an intriguing appeal, but I’m not sure anyone thought of it as a series that would determine the conference championship.

Kansas State (37-15, 14-7), with a two-game lead atop the Big 12, has everything in its favor going into this series at Tointon Family Stadium in Manhattan. Winners of 10 of their last 12 games, the Wildcats are playing at home, where they are 22-6 this season, and they own the most potent offense in the Big 12, with a league-leading composite batting average of .321 and an on-base percentage of .402.The 19th-ranked Sooners, on the other hand, who had led the conference for most ot the 2013 season, have been struggling mightily in recent weeks. Oklahoma (35-17, 12-9) has only won two of its past eight games, losing two series in a row to West Virginia and Oklahoma State.

Kansas State needs just one win against Oklahoma to clinch a share of its first baseball crown in Big 12 history and only its fourth conference title in baseball all-time. A series win will hand KSU the league title all by itself. The Cats lead the Big 12 in eight offensive categories, and although the pitching staff is relatively young, their six freshmen hurlers have combined to go 19-2 with seven saves and a combined ERA of just over three runs a game. K-State’s team batting average of .321 through all games ranks fourth nationally, and the Cats are eighth nationally in hits.

Five K-State position players (Austin Fisher, Ross Kivett, Shane Conlon, RJ Santigate and Jared King) are ranked in the top 10 in the conference in hitting, and all are hitting well above .300.

On paper, Kansas State appears to have a decided edge coming into the final weekend of the regular season, but the Sooners still have control of their own destiny. A series sweep would hand OU the Big 12 regular-season championship outright. Either way, the conference is assured of a first-time regular-season champion.

The Sooners are the third-best hitting team in the conference and have the league’s best hitter in junior Matt Oberste, who leads the Big 12 in five individual offensive categories (batting average, hits, total bases, RBI and slugging percentage).

West Virginia still has a mathematical chance as well. The Mountaineers are tied with Oklahoma in second place and are on the road this weekend in Stillwater to play Oklahoma State.

K-State may have the statistical advantage this weekend, but the Wildcats will still have to get by two of the conference’s best starting pitchers, Jonathan Gray and lefty Dillon Overton, which won’t be an easy task. The two Oklahoma starters, who will go on Friday and Saturday, respectively, are a combined 14-4 this season. Gray’s ERA in 13 starts is 1.43. Overton has started 11 games for the Sooners and owns a 2.87 ERA.

\The Sooners lead the all-time series with Kansas State 184-72-1 and are 80-45 in games played in Manhattan. OU won two of three against the Wildcats last season in Norman.

Three Things To Watch For In The Kansas State-Oklahoma Series

  • Can OU’s stellar starting pitching duo of Jonathan Gray and Dillon Overton shut down or contain Kansas State’s highly productive offensive machine, and on the Wildcats’ home turf? Gray will start the Friday series opener, In 13 appearances this season, Gray has given up an average of 4.5 hits per game and has a strikeout rate of almost nine per nine innings.
  • The odds of the Sooners winning all three games in the series are extremely low. First of all, the games are at Kansas State and, second, OU has swept only one Big 12 series all season, defeating TCU three straight in Norman in late March. The Sooners have lost two of three in three of their last four Big 12 weekend series.
  • Both teams have exceptional closers in their bullpens. There will be a premium on leading after seven innings, and it will be even tougher coming from behind in the ninth.

Prediction: Oklahoma will win on Friday and Saturday nights, setting up a winner-take-all series finale on Sunday. Kansas State will win Sunday’s game and win the regular-season crown outright, thanks to Oklahoma State taking two of three this weekend from West Virginia.

Follow Big 12 sports all year long, including team and individual features and commentary, at Talking12.com.


Tags: Baseball Kansas State Wildcats Oklahoma Sooners

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