Baseball Opens 2006 Season with Five Games at Hawaii-Hilo
Jan. 30, 2006
LAWRENCE, Kan. –
For the fourth consecutive year, the University of Kansas baseball team will open its season in Hawaii. The Jayhawks will face Hawaii-Hilo five times from Feb. 1-4. KU will be the first Big 12 Conference team to play a game in 2006. Projected by Baseball America to reach the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks face one of the toughest schedules in the country in an attempt to win 30-plus games for an unprecedented fourth consecutive season. Last season, KU swept its six-game series from the Vulcans. Matt Baty hit .400 with eight RBI and Kodiak Quick recorded two victories on the mound while striking out 11 Vulcans in 15 innings.
Dates/Times: Wednesday Feb. 1 11 p.m. Thursday Feb. 2 10 p.m. Friday Feb. 3 7 p.m. Saturday Feb. 4 3 p.m. (DH)Location: Hilo, Hawaii (Feb. 1-3) and Kona, Hawaii (Feb. 4)Internet: GameTracker at kuathletics.comRadio: Thursday's game will streamed online at http://vulcans.uhh.hawaii.edu/radio.phpSeries: Kansas leads 15-6 and has won 11 of the last 12 games.Coaches: Ritch Price (319-315-2 overall, 102-87-1 at KU) Joey Estrella (533-692-5 overall and at HHU)
KU returns seven position starters, two starting pitchers and closer Don Czyz.
The Jayhawks preseason RPI was ranked No. 26 in the country by SEbaseball.com.
Kansas was picked eighth in the Preseason Big 12 Coaches Poll.
Head coach Ritch Price is the fastest coach in Jayhawk history to reach 100 victories. Price achieved the feat last season in his 184th game at Kansas, 18 faster than KU coaching legend Floyd Temple.
The Jayhawks are 15-4 against Hawaii-Hilo during Price’s first three seasons. During his career, Price has accumulated a 24-9-1 record against the Vulcans.
Three sets of brothers adorn the 2006 KU roster. Senior Don and freshman Nick Czyz, junior Sean and freshman Preston Land, and senior Ritchie and sophomore Ryne Price.
Jayhawks Bring Experience, Expectations Into 2006 Season
Seven returning position starters, two starting pitchers and closer Don Czyz return to help the University of Kansas take the next step in becoming a perennial NCAA Tournament contender in 2006.
“We have a chance 1-through-9 to be as good offensively as any team in the Big 12,” head coach Ritch Price said. “Our goal is to be one of the three best offensive and three best defensive teams in our league. If we can continue to improve our pitching, and guys pitch up to their ability level, we think we can finish in the top five of our conference and be an NCAA Tournament team.”
Entering his fourth season at the helm of the Jayhawk program, Price has already guided KU to an unprecedented three-straight 30+ win seasons. The Jayhawks’ experience and depth will be challenged by one of the nation’s toughest schedules and arguably the most challenging road slate in the country.
“Our schedule is designed to prepare this experienced team that was playing so good the last five weeks of last year to not only compete to play in the Big 12 Tournament but also the NCAA Tournament,” Price said.
Leading the cast of returning players is the Jayhawks’ entire infield. Senior Jared Schweitzer returns at first base, sophomore second baseman Ryne Price and senior shortstop Ritchie Price will return up the middle while sophomore Erik Morrison will again man the hot corner.
“By the last five weeks of last year we were as good defensively as anybody in our conference,” Price said. “I think our infields’ goal is to be the best in the league and I feel they are capable of doing that.”
Schweitzer’s .366 average led the Jayhawks in 2005. The All-Big 12 Second Team member hit a sizzling .426 in Big 12 play. Last year the Sherwood Park, Alberta, native strung together a school-record 24-game hitting streak.
“Schweitzer has adjusted nicely since his move to first base,” Price said. “He had a solid junior year and now has become an outstanding defensive player.”
Ryne Price was named All-Big 12 Second Team as a true freshman last year. Price set new Kansas records for RBI (40) and doubles (12) by a freshman.
“Ryne continues to improve turning the double play and also had a very good summer,” Price said.
The Jayhawks return a familiar face at shortstop where Ritchie Price has made 187 starts in his first three seasons in a KU uniform. A career .313 hitter, Price scored a team-high 58 runs in 2005.
“Ritchie is one of the best shortstops in the conference, if not one of the best in the country,” Price stated. “We expect him to be All-Big 12 First Team – that is his goal going into the season – and to go back and play at the high level defensively that he has done throughout his career at Kansas.”
Morrison set the KU freshman record by playing in 63 games during his rookie campaign, including starting 60 games at third. The Arroyo Grande, Calif., native progressed as the 2005 season went on and turned in several outstanding defensive plays during the Big 12 Tournament.
Junior college transfer Ross Kelling will backup Schweitzer at first. Kelling hit .320 with 20 home runs and 134 RBI during his two seasons at Maple Woods Community College in Kansas City.
Sophomore Matt Berner will be the primary utility player backing up second base, third base and shortstop. The Lawrence, Kan., native saw action in 10 games last season and tallied four hits.
Seniors Matt Baty and Gus Milner return to man the outfield for Kansas. Redshirt sophomore John Allman will take over in left field for 2005 All-Big 12 First Team selection A.J. Van Slyke who was drafted and signed by the St. Louis Cardinals after his junior season.
A staple atop the KU batting order the past three seasons, Baty will return to centerfield in 2006. The Wichita, Kan., native was named All-Big 12 Second Team last year after earning first team honors in 2004. A career .327 hitter, Baty led KU with 75 hits last season. Baty provides KU’s lineup with speed as he’s swiped 70 bases during his first three seasons.
After being drafted by the Cleveland Indians in June, Milner decided to return to Kansas for his senior season. During his first season at KU in 2005, Milner posted 14 doubles, four triples, nine home runs and 45 RBI.
“Milner is back in right field and coming off a solid junior year,” Price said. “He turned down signing a pro contract to return, and we think he’ll have the same type of year Travis Metcalf had in 2004 when he didn’t sign and came back for his senior year and broke the KU career home run record. Gus has the potential to be one of the best players in our league.”
Allman will play left field after starting 15 games as the designated hitter and 14 in left field last season. The St. Louis, Mo., native hit .350 as a freshman including .389 in 17 Big 12 contests.
“Allman has a chance to hit with power in the middle of our lineup,” Price said.
Junior college transfer Kyle Murphy will play a key defensive role in the outfield for the Jayhawks. Murphy had a stellar career at Indian Hills Community College where he hit .444 with 13 home runs as a sophomore.
“Murphy is probably the best defensive player I have coached in the outfield since I’ve been at Kansas,” Price said. “He is going to have a huge role for us defensively late in games and is going to play a lot.”
Brock Simpson can play both corner outfield positions. The sophomore from Topeka, Kan., is slated to open the season as KU’s designated hitter.
Competing with Simpson to get at bats as the DH will be freshman Preston Land. Land – younger brother of KU junior pitcher Sean – set the Missouri Class 4A state record with 14 home runs last year as a senior at Lee’s Summit High. The Kansas City Star Player of the Year was also 7-0 on the mound.
Kansas’ biggest hole to fill is behind the plate where Sean Richardson started the last two years. Freshman Buck Afenir and junior college transfer Dylan Parzyk enter the season neck-and-neck for the starting position.
Afenir – the nephew of former MLB catcher Troy Afenir – had an outstanding prep career at Escondido High in Escondido, Calif.
A native of Vista, Calif., Parzyk played two seasons at Palomar Community College and was first team all-conference as a sophomore and the conference defensive player of the year as a freshman.
“We are going to play both guys and let them battle it out and see who emerges as the regular and who is the back up,” Price said. “Both guys are solid players, and we need them to play at a high level defensively and coordinate our pitching and defense.”
Redshirt freshman Justin Ellrich has a chance to get some at bats as a designated hitter or off the bench. “He has a plus swing from the left side,” Price said.
“Eric Snowden is a physical hitter who has a chance to get in the mix for at bats, and Andrew Spitzfaden is a solid No. 3 guy defensively,” commented Price.
Senior Kodiak Quick and junior Sean Land started a combined 31 games last season. Quick was recently named to the 2006 Brooks Wallace Award Watch list.
“As I enter my fourth season, this is the deepest we have been on the mound,” Price said. “We have three solid starters on the weekend, and we should be able to run a quality guy out to the mound during our mid-week games.”
After transferring from Stanford before last season, Quick established himself as KU’s Friday starter. The Belton, Mo., native’s 10 wins tied a school record while his 121.1 innings of work set a new KU record. For his efforts, Quick was named All-Big 12 Second Team.
“Kodiak is coming off a tremendous junior season and could be one of the best pitchers in the Big 12,” Price said. “He has a chance to become an All-Big 12 First Team selection.”
Land went 5-5 on the hill while making 16 starts and 24 appearances. The left-hander struck out 73 batters in 74 innings.
“Land was inconsistent early last year and really good at the end of the season,” Price said. “He had a nice summer in the Cape Cod League, and we are looking for him to become an impact guy and take that final step.”
Tulane transfer Ricky Fairchild will be the third starter for the Jayhawks. The senior made 37 appearances, all in relief, for the Green Wave over a course of three seasons.
Freshmen Nick Czyz and Andy Marks are the next two in line and could become KU’s mid-week starters.
Czyz – younger brother of Don – had a standout career at Blue Valley West in Overland Park, Kan. During the summer, the lefty suited up for the USA Junior National Team that posted a 12-2 record.
Senior Don Czyz returns as KU’s closer after recording 10 saves last year, second most all-time. A workhorse, Czyz already owns the Jayhawks’ record for appearances in a career with 91.
After an impressive fall showing, freshman Paul Smyth has a chance to be the Jayhawks’ set-up man.
Junior Ryotaro Hayakawa returns after having his sophomore season cut short due to injury after just one outing. “Ryotaro had a good fall and we are excited about him being back in the mix and being a contributor,” Price said.
Freshman Ryan Anthony is a left-hander with potential while the coaching staff likes the upside of sophomore lefty Kyle Klem.
Senior Trey Randa and sophomore Matt Lane continue to make progress and could be used in long relief. Randa saw action in three games last year while Lane took the hill in four.
Redshirt freshman Carter Holt, “has an outstanding arm,” said Price. “He has been inconsistent throwing strikes but continues to improve each week and has a chance to get in the mix.”
The Jayhawks’ 2006 schedule consists of 10 teams that made the 2005 NCAA Tournament and road trips to nationally-ranked Clemson, Southern Cal, Baylor, Nebraska and national champion Texas.
“When I sat down to make our schedule I was going to play one of the toughest schedules in America, and it certainly is being evaluated like that before the season starts,” commented Price. “It is without a doubt the toughest schedule the University of Kansas has ever undertaken.”