To predict Jake Matthys would impact the Kansas State University baseball program this spring would be nearly impossible, kind of like predicting ice out on area lakes this spring.
Matthys, a 2012 Spring Lake Park High School graduate, completed his freshman year at the university in Manhattan, Kan., as the team’s closer where he helped the baseball program reach new highs and collected a few individual honors along the way.
Matthys was named First Team Freshman All-American presented by Louisville Slugger June 5.
He compiled a 9-2 record in 34 appearance with a 2.05 earned run average over 61.1 innings of work. He struck out 44, walked nine and led the team in saves with nine.
Perhaps his biggest win of the season came June 8 when Kansas State won its first game in the NCAA Super Regional at Oregon State 6-2. Matthys picked up the win in two innings of work. He gave up two hits and struck out one of the eight batters he faced.
Two days later, the 2013 Big 12 Conference Freshman of the Year award winner started for the first time, giving up four runs on three hits in 4.1 innings of work for his second loss of the season. Matthys threw a career-high 75 pitches, walked one batter and struck out a season-high five batters in what was the final game of a remarkable season for the program that posted a 45-19 record.
Kansas State rose to a No. 13 ranking and won its first Big 12 Conference championship before losing the conference tournament title to Oklahoma in 11 innings 7-6.
As the NCAA Manhattan regional host and top seed the Wildcats enjoyed playing in front of its home fans. They topped Wichita State 20-11 followed by Bryant College to set up a meeting against Arkansas in the final series. The Razorbacks had already lost once in the double elimination format. Kansas State won 4-3 on a walk-off wild pitch to reach the super regional in Oregon.
Matthys said he was thrust into a starting role in the super regional championship series because of how much work the rest of the staff had put in over the previous two games.
“It wasn’t that different [coming into a game in the sixth inning instead of starting the game on the mound] because it was a pressure situation – I’ve done it all season,” he said.
The team won a lot of comebacks this season, Matthys said.
Coming into a pressure-filled situation needing an out was pretty typical for Matthys.
Handling those situations took some time, but Matthys said he “tries not to think, ‘If I walk this guy this will happen.’ I just focus on positive thoughts.”
As the visitors inside a loud stadium in Corvallis, Ore., wasn’t anything new for Matthys either. “I guess Texas is like that too, but they had a down year,” he said.
The Kansas State crowd reached more than 4,000 per game by the end of the season setting an attendance record. “It’s always great to play at home but it was fun to win at Oregon, too,” Matthys said.
Matthys was already on the road to Kansas eight hours after graduating from Spring Lake Park last June to start summer workouts in addition to three summer classes.
He also refined his pitches while playing for the Midwest Wolverines out of Wichita, Kan., where he faced a variety of college-level players.
Last week Matthys took a week off to rest and returned home to Spring Lake Park before heading out to Queensbury, N.Y., to join Kansas State teammates Austin Fisher and Jared Moore playing for the Glens Falls Golden Eagles in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.
Matthys said the goal for this off-season is to work on his conditioning so he has the chance to become a starting pitcher for the Wildcats next season. “They said I still have to earn it but that’s the plan,” he said. “I’ll do anything they want me to do and I love to pitch so if they want me to start, that’s what I’ll do.”
That drive to do whatever it takes on the baseball mound was helped by former Spring Lake Park baseball coach Wally Axelson.
Matthys attributes much of his success to Axelson, a 1977 Spring Lake Park graduate and father to 2013 graduate Justin Axelson.
“Even now we talk everyday about baseball,” Matthys said about the knowledge he learned from Axelson about pitching and how to succeed on the mound.
Axelson said it was a thrill to see Matthys pitch during the regional win against Arkansas on ESPN “and a goose bump moment.”