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No. 7 Texas heads to Manhattan to face Kansas State

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The Horns start the weekend series on Thursday to avoid playing on Easter.

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Trey Faltine
Texas baseball

The third Big 12 road series for the No. 7 Texas Longhorns (25-10, 5-4) takes head coach David Pierce and his program to Manhattan to face the Kansas State Wildcats (15-16, 1-8) with the first game scheduled for Thursday.

Texas leads the all-time series 60-20-1, including a 23-9 record in Manhattan needing a series sweep since the Longhorns are currently sitting fifth in the Big 12 standings and the Wildcats are the conference’s worst team with only one win in nine conference games. In the ELO rankings, Kansas State sits at No. 93, ahead of only Kanas in the Big 12.

Entering the series, Texas ranks first in the Big 12 with a .320 batting average and 57 home runs, which also leads the conference and ranks seventh nationally. First baseman Ivan Melendez has made the biggest individual contribution to the power surge, leading the country with 16 home runs after hitting two on Tuesday against Stephen F. Austin. Murphy Stehly, who is currently playing right field, is batting .430 and leads the nation with 61 hits.

One storyline that continues to bear monitoring is the health of left fielder Eric Kennedy, who has missed the last six games with a sore hamstring. Dylan Campbell, who has also played some right field following the injury suffered by Austin Todd, has started in Kennedy’s place, but was benched during the midweek game for falling to run out a foul ball that drifted back into fall territory.

“It’s unfortunate because that’s not who he is, and honestly, I don’t think you really saw the ball. If you don’t see it, you got to go,” Pierce said after the game. “I think that’s really what happened, but we can’t let it pass. It will never happen to him again and he knows it and he regrets it.”

So despite the transgression, expect Campbell to start again in left field if Kennedy remains unavailable.

On the mound, left-hander Pete Hansen will start Thursday’s game as the two-time reigning Big 12 Pitcher of the Week after throwing his first career complete-game shutout last Friday against TCU, an appearance in which he allowed only two hits and struck out 12 batters for the second straight start. His 2.08 ERA ranks third in the league, as do his 64 strikeouts, while ranking second with an opponent batting average of .178.

The Friday situation is currently more unsettled for the Longhorns after two poor starts in the last three appearances from right-hander Tristan Stevens, who has struggled with the feel for his sinker and his slider in those starts. If Texas doesn’t get the pitcher who went 6.1 innings with two runs allowed against Oklahoma and gets the pitcher who failed to get an out against Texas Tech or lasted only two innings against TCU, it could imperil the hopes of a three-game sweep of Kansas State.

The Wildcats are 11-3 at home this season and capable of doing some damage offensively, boasting a team batting average of .289 with 42 home runs, led by center fielder Dominic Johnson, who is hitting .389 with 15 doubles. Right fielder Dylan Phillips, a .328 hitter, is the team’s biggest power threat with nine home runs.

One thing to watch — Kansas State is not a particularly patient team at the plate, ranking tied for 168th in the country with 126 walks this season, good news for a bullpen that seems to be improving, but has had trouble reliably throwing strikes.

The pitching staff for the Wildcats isn’t especially impressive on paper with five different pitchers recording one save each and no regular pitcher with an ERA under 3.29 while a host of them really struggling to get outs.

PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS

FRIDAY – Texas LHP Pete Hansen (6-0, 2.08) vs. K-State RHP Griffin Hassall (3-4, 4.25)

SATURDAY – Texas RHP Tristan Stevens (4-3, 4.15) vs. K-State RHP Blake Adams (3-4, 4.12)

SUNDAY – Texas LHP Lucas Gordon (2-1, 2.63) vs. K-State RHP Connor McCullough (3-1, 3.66)

Thursday’s first pitch is at 6 p.m. Central, followed by the same time on Friday with a 4 p.m. Central start scheduled for Saturday. Big 12 Now on ESPN+ will carry all three contests.