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Kansas State Travels to Face No. 28 Texas Tech

GO WILDCATS SS Osmar Castillo enters the Texas Tech series riding a 10-game hitting streak.
SS Osmar Castillo enters the Texas Tech series riding a 10-game hitting streak.

April 4, 2002

Manhattan, Kan. - Kansas State continues its brutal trek through the rugged Big 12 Conference this weekend, as the Wildcats travel to Lubbock, Texas to take on No. 28 Texas Tech for a three-game series at Dan Law Field. It will be the Wildcats' seventh ranked foe in the last 10 series and third straight ranked opponent to start conference play.

Kansas State will play its first Friday night game of the season to open the series with first pitch set for 7 p.m., while Saturday's game is set for 2 p.m. and Sunday's finale for 12 p.m. The game will be broadcast live by KMAN-1350 AM out of Manhattan, while live stats will be available at www.kstatesports.com

Kansas State (16-12, 3-3 Big 12), which has won five of its last seven contests, is coming off a disappointing end to its eight-game homestand in a 9-5 loss eighth-ranked Wichita State on Wednesday. The Wildcats overcame a 4-0 early deficit with four runs in the third and one in the fifth for a 5-4 lead, however, the Shockers tied it in the sixth then took the lead for good with two runs each in the seventh and eighth innings. K-State could not take advantage of three WSU errors and once again had trouble scoring with runners on base, as the Wildcats stranded a near season-high 12 baserunners.

Kansas State has played just two 'true' road games this year, both losses at nationally-ranked Florida Atlantic and Florida International during its Spring Break trip in mid-March. The Wildcats were just 1-11 on the road in Big 12 play last season and have just two wins in their last 27 conference road games. K-State's last league road win came against Oklahoma State in a 13-8 victory on April 7, 2001, while the Wildcats' last win against a Big 12 foe in Lone Star State came in a 8-4 defeat of Texas on March 13, 1999.

The Wildcats continue through one of the roughest portions of the schedule with their series at nationally-ranked Texas Tech. Six of the team's last nine opponents have been ranked in the Top 25. Three of the Wildcats' last six wins have come against ranked foes (No. 20 Oklahoma State and No. 8 Nebraska), while their last seven losses have been to teams ranked in either of three major polls (Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Rutgers, OSU, Nebraska and WSU).

Kansas State will stay with its usual weekend rotation, as senior right-handed pitcher Ross Hawley (1-2, 4.31 ERA) will start Friday's opener, while senior left-handed pitcher Brock Smith (1-3, 6.30 ERA) will go Saturday and junior right-handed pitcher Kevin Melcher (4-1, 3.05 ERA) will conclude the series on Sunday. Hawley leads the staff in starts (eight) and is tied with Melcher for the strikeout lead (36), but has suffered back-to-back no-decisions versus Oklahoma State and Nebraska. Smith had his shortest outing of the year against Nebraska, giving up six earned runs on seven hits in just two innings. The biggest surprise seems to be Melcher, who paces the staff in wins, ERA and innings pitched (41.1) and is tied for the lead in strikeouts.

The Wildcats' hottest hitter has been senior shortstop Osmar Castillo, who extended his career-best hitting streak to 10 games with a double against Wichita State on Wednesday. He was named the Phillips 66 Big 12 Player of the Week on Monday after leading the Wildcats to a 4-1 record last week. Castillo hit a blistering .667 (10-of-15) for the week with four doubles, seven runs scored and four RBIs from his lead-off spot. He went 8-for-11 (.727) with five runs scored and three RBIs for the Nebraska series last weekend.

Kansas State, which remains second in the Big 12 team hitting with a .322 average, has three individuals rank among the top 10 in the conference in hitting. Junior outfielder Pat Maloney currently leads the league in hitting with a .422 average through 28 games, while sophomore third baseman Ty Soto (.384, seventh) and junior designated hitter Tim Doty (.383, ninth) finish out the Wildcats' in the top 10. One of the best hitters the first part of the season, Maloney also places among the top 5 in the Big 12 in eight offensive categories, including pacing the league with a .752 slugging percentage.

Texas Tech (24-13, 7-8 Big 12) has been ranked in all three major polls at one point or another this season and currently sits at No. 28 in Collegiate Baseball's Top 30 poll. The Red Raiders are one of six Big 12 teams that are ranked in the poll, following Nebraska (13), Texas (15), Texas A&M (16), Oklahoma (17) and Baylor (18). Texas Tech enters the weekend with wins in four of its last six contests, including Tuesday's 7-3 non-conference win against Howard Payne. The Red Raiders have already played five conference series, winning two of three against nationally-ranked squad from Texas and Oklahoma State. Last weekend, Tech won the first two games from Missouri, 7-4 and 13-6, before losing 7-1 in the finale.

Much like Kansas State, Texas Tech will stay with its usual weekend rotation, as senior right-handed pitcher Chris Phillips (4-2, 4.43 ERA) will start Friday's opener, with sophomore right-handed pitcher Steve Gooch (3-2, 4.62 ERA) and junior right-handed pitcher Nathan Fouts (5-4, 4.85 ERA) going Saturday and Sunday. Phillips paces the team in innings pitched (69.0), strikeouts (59) and complete games (three), while Fouts has a team-leading 11 starts. In all, the staff has a 4.72 ERA in 324.1 innings pitched with 259 strikeouts to 98 walks. Senior right-handed pitcher Steve Rowe is the designated closer with four saves to go with a 5-1 mark and 0.55 ERA.

Offensively, Texas Tech ranks fourth in the Big 12 in hitting with a .321 average. The Red Raiders are led by senior catcher Willie Durazo, who paces the team with a .394 batting average with 30 RBIs and seven home runs. Outfielder Jon Slack hits at a .390 clip with team-highs in both hits (55) and runs scored (47), while third baseman Nick Blankenship has a team-best 53 RBIs and 13 homers.

In a relatively new series that began in 1993, Texas Tech has a commanding 13-2 advantage in the all-time meetings with Kansas State. The Red Raiders won the first seven games in the series before the Wildcats earned their inaugural win in a 9-7 victory on April 24, 1999 in Wichita, Kan. Texas Tech then preceded to win the next six meetings before Kansas State gained their second win, including their first at home, in a 8-4 victory on March 18 of last year. The two teams first met at the Pepsi/Johnny Quik Classic in Fresno, Calif., on March 15, 1993 with the Red Raiders taking a narrow 3-2 victory.

Kansas State is winless in two trips to Lubbock, holding a 0-6 record since the two teams began conference play in 1997. In fact, the Wildcats are a disappointing 5-38 on the road against the four Texas schools (Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech) since the inception of the Big 12 Conference. Of the six games Kansas State has played in Lubbock, only one game has been decided by fewer than five runs, a 6-5 Tech victory on May 9, 1998. In their last visit to Lubbock in 2000, the Wildcats lost 19-7 on Friday before dropping a doubleheader by identical 9-2 scores on Sunday.

Kansas State returns home for a brief one-game homestand on Wed., April 10, as the Wildcat play host to Sterling College for a 2 p.m. first pitch at Tointon Family Stadium. The team returns to the road next weekend with a three-game series against No. 16 Texas A&M (24-10, 7-5 Big 12) at Olsen Field.