For a number of weeks I’ve written about how tightly bunched the Big 12 baseball standings have been, and that over the second half of the regular season we should see separation between the contenders and the pretenders.
On the final weekend of the regular season, Kansas State made sure there would be no drama on Saturday or Sunday by coming from behind to defeat struggling Oklahoma in front of a packed K-State crowd in Manhattan and capture the Wildcats’ first Big 12 baseball crown and only their second conference title in the sport all-time. And by winning the regular-season baseball title, K-State became only the second Big 12 school to win championships in football, basketball and baseball in the same season.
The conference race remained tight to the very end, with Kansas State separating itself from the rest of the contenders over the final two weekends of the regular season, finishing with a two-and-a-half-game advantage over second-place Oklahoma State. There was only a game and a half difference, however, between second-place OSU and seventh-place TCU.
The combination of the Kansas State win over Oklahoma on Friday and the West Virginia loss to Oklahoma State the same day awarded the conference title in baseball outright to the Wildcats. Finishing with a 16-8 conference mark, K-State (39-16, 16-8) goes into this week’s Big 12 Baseball Championship, starting Wednesday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City, as the top seed. That is the Wildcats highest seeding in the conference championship in the Big 12 era and their eighth appearance in the league postseason t0urnament.
What a difference a year can make. Kansas State was the eighth and last seed in the 2012 conference championship, posting only seven regular season wins a year ago.
Kansas State will face eighth-seeded Texas Tech (25-28, 9-15) in the second game of the tournament on Wednesday. The first game pits fourth-seed Oklahoma (36-19, 13-11) against No. 5-seed Baylor (27-25, 12-11). Texas Tech earned the final spot in the eight-team championship by taking two of three games from Baylor over the weekend.
Oklahoma, the 2013 preseason pick of the Big 12 coaches to win the conference title, met Baylor twice in last year’s league tournament, defeating the Bears twice on the way to the championship final against Missouri.
Kansas State, Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas Tech make up Division One in the Big 12 Championship bracket. Division Two included second-seed Oklahoma State; third-seeded West Virginia; Kansas, the six seed, and seventh-seeded TCU.
The Division Two games will take place in the late afternoon and evening on Wednesday. Kansas (31-22, 13-12) opens up the action going against conference newcomer West Virginia (31-25, 13-11). That game will be followed by Oklahoma State (39-14), owners of the best overall record in the conference, taking on the other newcomer to the league, TCU (28-26, 12-12).
Top-seed Kansas State, Oklahoma State and TCU come into the Big 12 postseason tournament as the hottest teams, all three teams winning seven of their last nine or 10 games.
On the other end of the spectrum, Oklahoma, which earlier in the month was ranked as high as 10th in one of the national polls and was 9-4 in conference action at one point, has gone on a three-week tailspin, losing seven of its last 10 games. OU lost its final three series of the regular season, against West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Kansas State, the three teams that finished ahead of the once-first-place Sooners.
Noticeably absent from this year’s Big 12 Baseball Championship is Texas, which finished in ninth place in the 2013 league standings, the Lonbghorns worst finish in Big 12 history. We’re talking about a school with a rich baseball heritage that has won six national championships, including two while in the Big 12 (2002, 2005)seven Big 12 regular-season titles and four conference championships.
“It’s dark down here where I’m at,” Longhorns’ coach Augie Garrido said to an Associated Press reporter. He went on to sarcastically say that he probably needed to be fitted for a miner’s helmet the way this season has gone.
The format of the Championship is double elimination within each division, with the winners of each division meeting in the championship game on Sunday. The teams are seeded on the basis of their record in conference games (ties are decided by the best winning percentage or head-to-head competion). The tournament champion receives the Big 12′s automatic bid to the NCAA Baseball Championship.
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