Jayhawks Host Northwestern This Weekend

March 5, 2009


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Kansas vs. Northwestern

With wins in three of its last four games, the Kansas baseball team will host non-conference foe Northwestern in a four-game series this weekend. The Jayhawks and Wildcats will meet in a doubleheader on Friday beginning at 1 p.m., and conclude the series with single games Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.

Live statistical updates from all four games will be available on Gametracker, which is available via kuathletics.com.

Series History

The Jayhawks have met Northwestern four times previously on the baseball diamond, including last season at the Florida Spring Classic in Bradenton, Fla. The Wildcats hold a 3-1 lead in the all-time series with three games decided by one run, including KU’s 12-11 triumph last year.

About the Jayhawks

Kansas is coming off a series sweep of Division I Independent North Dakota this past week. The Jayhawks are back over .500 for the first time since they were 1-0.

Kansas is led by catcher Buck Afenir’s .429 batting average and Travis Blankenship’s 1.23 ERA. As a team, the Jayhawks are batting .266 with 14 doubles and 12 stolen bases. The pitching staff has compiled a 3.14 ERA and is allowing a .204 batting average to its opponents.

Scouting the Wildcats

Northwestern enters the four-game series with Kansas at 2-6 after dropping a pair to Northeastern in a doubleheader in Winter Haven, Fla., on Sunday. The Wildcats went 1-3 in the initial Big Ten-Big East challenge, with their win coming against Georgetown in the first game of the season.

Junior infielder Kenneth Avila leads the Wildcat offense with 13 hits and a .481 batting average in eight games. Avila has reached base at a .545 clip. Freshman first baseman Paul Snieder has been Northwestern’s top power threat, batting .350 with two doubles, a triple, a homer and five RBIs.

Sophomore lefty Eric Jokisch has been nearly unhittable for the Wildcats this season. Jokisch has posted a 1-0 record with a 2.30 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings of work. Freshman Michael Jahns has been a key man out of the bullpen for the ‘Cats, making three scoreless appearances.

Northwestern returns 18 letterwinners and five position starters from last year’s squad, which finished 21-28 and seventh in the Big Ten.

Last Time Out

Sophomore Tony Thompson hit a three-run homer in the first inning, while junior Travis Blankenship pitched five solid innings as Kansas completed a two-game sweep of North Dakota, 6-3, Wednesday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.

We’re Going Streaking

Sophomore Tony Thompson wasted little time in extending his hitting streak Wednesday. Thompson slammed a first inning homer to run his hitting streak to 16 games, matching the longest streak in the last four years and the 14th-longest stretch in Jayhawk history.

Thompson hit safely in the final nine games of the 2008 season and has collected hits in all seven games this season.

During his hitting streak, Thompson is batting .424 (25-for-59) with three doubles, three homers and 14 RBIs.

Starting Over

While the season is still young, one of the biggest differences between last year’s Jayhawks and this year’s squad has been the quality starting pitching. In the first seven games, KU’s starters have a combined ERA of 1.90 (nine earned runs in 42 2/3 innings), compared to a 6.21 ERA by its starters last season.

Even more remarkable is the fact the KU has three quality starts (6.0+ innings pitched allowing three runs or less) through the first seven games of the season after just 10 quality starts in 2008.

Suddenly Smyth

After a pair of rough outings to open the season, senior relief pitcher Paul Smythrebounded nicely this past week, picking up his first save of the season in the Wednesday win over North Dakota. In the series against the Fighting Sioux, Smyth pitched the ninth inning in both games and retired all six hitters he faced. He dropped his season ERA by nine runs a game.

In his two losses this season, Smyth showed uncharacteristic signs of wildness, walking two hitters, throwing a pair of wild pitches and hitting a batter. However, against UND, Smyth had pinpoint control, throwing just 24 pitches, including 15 for strikes (63 percent).

Around the Horn

– The Jayhawks will face Big Ten foe Northwestern in a four-game series at Hoglund Ballpark this weekend. KU is 3-2 against Big Ten opponents under Ritch Price.

– Kansas swept a two-game series from North Dakota earlier this week to improve to 19-1 against non-conference opponents at Hoglund Ballpark in its last 20 games. The only blemish came against then-No. 8 Wichita State on April 1, 2008.

– With the win Tuesday against UND, Kansas extended its winning streak in home openers to 10 straight years, including all seven under head coachRitch Price.

– Through seven games this season, the Jayhawks’ defense leads the Big 12 with a .989 fielding percentage. Kansas has made just three errors in 269 chances.

– While the Jayhawks haven’t been as dangerous with the longball this season, they have been more threatening on the basepaths. Through seven games, KU has stolen 12 bases in 15 attempts. During the entire 2008 season, the Jayhawks swiped just 30 bases.

– Senior catcher Buck Afenir went 1-for-5 in the North Dakota series with a double in Tuesday’s game. Over the last two seasons, Afenir is batting nearly 100 points higher away from Hoglund Ballpark than he is in home games, but has shown nearly equal power.

– Sophomore transfer Joe Lincoln went 3-for-7 during his first series in a Jayhawk uniform. Lincoln was one of three Kansas players to collect a hit in his first at-bat of the season – an RBI single against Air Force on Feb. 20.

– Catcher Chris Manshipmade his first collegiate start on Feb. 20 against Memphis. The freshman went 0-for-2 in the game, before he was lifted for a pinch hitter.

– Senior first baseman Preston Land returned to the lineup Wednesday after a day off, and went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Two of Land’s four hits this season have been for extra bases.

– Freshman Zac Elgie started at first base Tuesday against North Dakota and collected his first RBI in a Kansas uniform with a sacrifice fly in the third inning.

– Junior second baseman Robby Price collected his first sacrifice bunt of the season in Tuesday’s win over North Dakota. Price is the KU career leader in sacrifices with 39 in two-plus seasons.

– Junior shortstop David Narodowskicollected base hits in both games of the North Dakota series and has now hit safely in three straight. The junior also leads the team with six runs scored.

– Sophomore Tony Thompson collected his second double of the season in Tuesday’s win over North Dakota, matching his total from last season. He also hit KU’s first home run of the year Wednesday.

– Freshman left fielder Jake Marasco hit safely in each of his first two games in a Kansas uniform (vs. Air Force and vs. Memphis). Both of his base hits were to the opposite field.

– Senior Nick Faunce rebounded from a tough opening weekend by going 4-for-9 against No. 21 Arkansas Feb. 24-25. Faunce had two doubles and three RBIs in the series after just 13 RBIs in 2008.

– Freshman Jason Brunanskywent 1-for-3 with a run scored in Wednesday’s win over the Fighting Sioux. Brunansky has quietly hit .294 this season with five hits in his first 17 at bats.

– Sophomore Brian Heere recorded his first career multi-hit game Wednesday against UND. The Kansas right fielder scored the first run of the game on Tony Thompson’sthree run homer, and then drove in Jason Brunansky with an RBI single in the fifth.

– Sophomore Casey Lytle has been a tough out this season, batting .750 (6-for-8) in four games. Lytle’s career numbers include a .600 batting average (9-for-15) with two doubles, seven runs scored and two RBIs.

– Sophomore Jimmy Waters went 1-for-4 against North Dakota Wednesday and is batting .250 to start the season. Waters got off to a slow start last year, but hit .289 after March 15.

– Freshman Lee Ridenhourrecorded his second win in as many starts with another five-inning gem Tuesday. The freshman has allowed 1.5 baserunners per inning thus far, but has only surrendered four runs in 10 innings on the hill.

– Junior transfer Travis Blankenship made his first start as a Jayhawk and allowed just one unearned run in five innings of work to pick up the victory Wednesday. The 6-foot-2 lefty has been dominant this season, allowing just three hits to the 23 batters he has faced.

– Freshman Kevin Burk rebounded from a rocky debut by pitching two scoreless innings against North Dakota on Tuesday. The first-year righty had his way with the Fighting Sioux hitters, retiring all six men he faced, while recording a pair of strikeouts.

– Sophomore Brett Bochy made a pair of appearances in the North Dakota series and allowed just one walk, while recording four strikeouts. In 17 career appearances, Bochy has recorded at least one strikeout in 16 of them.

– Senior Paul Smyth was also perfect in the North Dakota series, retiring all six men he faced. In his career, Smyth has been a much more effective pitcher at home. Since 2007, his career ERA at Hoglund Ballpark is 2.19, compared to 3.80 on the road.

– Junior Shaeffer Hall followed up his no-hit performance with another solid start on Feb. 25, holding Arkansas to two runs on six hits over five innings. Hall also did not walk anybody and collected five strikeouts.

– Sophomore T.J. Walz struggled in his relief stint Feb. 25 against Arkansas. Throughout his collegiate career, Walz has been much more effective as a starting pitcher, posting a 4.01 ERA as a starter, and a 6.99 ERA as a reliever.

Up Next

Following the weekend set with Northwestern, Kansas will face in-state rival Wichita State on Wednesday, March 11 at 6 p.m. This will be the Jayhawks’ final home game until they open conference play with Texas on March 20.