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Kansas State Collegian

Kansas State Collegian

The independent student news publication at Kansas State University

Kansas State Collegian

Baseball moves on from last year’s disappointment with eyes on NCAA tournament

K-State baseball has one goal in mind after NCAA tournament snub
Avery Johnson
Second baseman Brady Day talks to the media in a preview of the upcoming season. Day said during the press conference that he returned to K-State despite being drafted by the Atlanta Braves because of the culture and a want to make the NCAA Tournament with the team.

Last season Kansas State baseball looked to march its way to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2013. On selection Monday, the Wildcats were heartbroken. Despite finishing with a 35-24 record and a Big 12 tournament semifinals appearance, K-State was not among the 64 teams chosen.

“Obviously we could talk about last year all we want but we’re moving forward and there’s a reason why everybody’s back here in this room — because we have high expectations,” head coach Pete Hughes said at the team’s media day press conference.

The RPI scale has major influence over the college baseball selection committee. Last season Oklahoma made the tournament over K-State, even with a 31-28 record and having been swept by the Wildcats. The reason? Oklahoma’s RPI ranking was 40 — K-State’s was 55.

To counteract this, Hughes and K-State formulated a stronger schedule. This includes facing tougher competition and more strenuous travel plans. Hughes said this will create difficulty for his players academically, but he expects they will handle it.

“It’s at the forefront of what we’re doing is putting our program in the best situation to play in the national tournament and getting to that race to Omaha,” Hughes said. “So if we got to get on a plane midweek, then that’s what we’re going to do.” 

It is not only Hughes who is motivated by new year opportunities. Second baseman Brady Day, drafted 369th overall by the Atlanta Braves, decided to return this year with that same mindset.

“We just wanted the chance to be in the postseason and see what we can do,” Day said about returning to K-State. “We felt like we were kind of cut a little short. So that definitely played a factor. A lot of guys [are] coming back that didn’t have to come back, and it just speaks a lot to the program and the culture that we have … just looking to go further than we did last year.”

Alongside the future Brave are the Wildcats’ two stars: shortstop Kaelen Culpepper and closer Tyson Neighbors. Both were named Preseason All-Americans, with Neighbors attempting to follow up his First Team All-American season last year. Considered by many the best closer in college baseball, Neighbors said he came back because of K-State’s culture and is ready to help the team reach new heights.

“We’re the underdog and we kind of own that mentality and love that mentality. … Coach has put us on the map to be a national program,” Neighbors said. “And that’s been my goal and our team’s goal since day one. [We’re] planning to carry that out.”

Culpepper’s name also sizzles through the baseball world. Not only a Preseason All-American, the third-baseman-turned-shortstop played with Neighbors on the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team for Team USA. He knocked it out of the park, hitting a team-high .471 average with two triples, three home runs and seven RBI.

Neighbors said he and Culpepper talked about staying in Manhattan and building their own legacy in the Little Apple.

“I just got comfortable with being here,” Culpepper said. “I kind of want to make my mark here. If I went anywhere else — that was never on my mind — but I feel like I wouldn’t have that same mindset as I do here.”

Culpepper, Neighbors, the 16 fellow returning players, Hughes, new Wichita State transfer Chuck Ingram and the rest of the newcomers hold the goal of bringing K-State to its first NCAA Tournament in over a decade. The journey begins at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 nearly 1,100 miles away in Scottsdale, Arizona, as the Wildcats open the season against California.

“We [have] a lot of kids in this room that decided to come back and be a part of this program and this season specifically to finish some unfinished business,” Hughes said.

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About the Contributors
Luke Lazarczyk
Luke Lazarczyk, sports writer
Sports editor for 2023-24. Previously sports editor for 2022-23 and writer for 2021-22.
Avery Johnson
Avery Johnson, multimedia editor
Multimedia editor for 2023-24. Previously photographer for spring 2023.
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