Kansas Baseball Home-Opener Set for Thursday
March 6, 2013
LEADING OFF: After spending the first three weekends of the season away from Hoglund Ballpark, the Kansas Jayhawks will play their first home games against Niagara University, this weekend. The Jayhawks will host the Purple Eagles in a four-game series, beginning on Thursday at 3 p.m. The teams will also meet Friday (3 p.m.), Saturday (1 p.m.) and Sunday (noon).
ON THE AIR: All four games from the Niagara series will feature live video and audio play-by-play on AT&T Jayhawk All-Access. Fans can find a link to All-Access at KUAthletics.com. Veteran broadcaster Tom Hedrick will return to the booth along with Aaron Berlin this weekend.
SERIES HISTORY: Kansas and Niagara will be meeting for the first time on the baseball diamond this weekend.
ABOUT THE JAYHAWKS: The Jayhawks will play their first home games this weekend after traveling in their first three weekends of the season. KU’s last two series were moved from Lawrence to Little Rock, Ark. and Grand Prairie, Texas due to winter weather. The Jayhawks have split their previous two four-game series this season.
KU’s offense has shown a remarkable turnaround from 2012 through the first three weeks of the year, batting .318 with 18 doubles and 21 stolen bases. The Jayhawks are averaging 6.4 runs per game. Senior 3B Jordan Dreiling ranks sixth in the Big 12 with a .426 batting average. The senior also has a team-best seven doubles, nine runs scored and four stolen bases on the year. On the mound, senior RHP Thomas Taylor is coming off an impressive performance, tossing a complete game shutout against Eastern Michigan on March 2. Taylor is 1-0 on the year with a 2.21 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings. As a team, KU ranks seventh in the Big 12 with a 3.87 ERA.
LAST TIME OUT: Eastern Michigan collected a season-high 16 hits as the Eagles earned a series spilt, knocking off Kansas, 11-6, on March 3 at QuikTrip Park in Grand Prairie, Texas.
SCOUTING THE PURPLE EAGLES: Niagara will play Kansas State on Wednesday night, before opening a four-game series in Lawrence on Thursday. The Purple Eagles are 3-8 on the season after Tuesday night’s 10-2 loss to the Wildcats. Niagara was picked to finish seventh in the Metro Atlantic Conference preseason poll.
Niagara’s offense ranks seventh in the MAAC with a .240 team batting average. The Purple Eagles are averaging 5.4 runs per game, while reaching base at a .343 clip. Senior 1B Ryan McCauley leads the team with a .294 batting average with a double, two homers and six RBIs in nine games, while junior OF Kevin Paulsen has a team high nine RBIs with three doubles and a .333 on-base percentage.
The Purple Eagles’ pitching has struggled this season, ranking last in their conference with a 9.56 team ERA, while opponents have hit .340 against the staff. Junior RHP Drew Fittry is projected to be Niagara’s starting pitcher in the series opener on Thursday. Fittry is 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA in two starts this season. He has walked five and recorded two strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.
Niagara head coach Rob McCoy is in his sixth season at the school and has led the Purple Eagles to 89 wins in his time at the school. McCoy came to Niagara after serving as an assistant coach at James Madison University.
- KU does not have any players from New York, while Niagara does not have any Kansas natives on its roster.
- Kansas IF/C Alex DeLeon is from Woodland Hills, Calif., while Niagara senior RHP Kody Kasper is from nearby Newbury Park, Calif.
- A handful of players on the teams are from the San Francisco Bay Area: Kansas RHP Frank Duncan (San Francisco), OF Joe Moroney (Pleasanton), IF Colby Wright (Castro Valley) and the Purple Eagles’ junior OF Kevin Paulsen (Orinda).
- Jayhawk RHP Drew Morovick is from Hemet, Calif., while Niagara OF Christian Vangeison is from nearby Temecula, Calif.
- Kansas Director of Baseball Operations Eric Peterson is a former assistant coach at Niagara University. Peterson served as the Purple Eagles’ pitching coach/recruiting coordinator in 2011 and 2012.
NO DOUBTING THOMAS: Senior Thomas Taylor recorded his first complete game shutout on March 2, allowing just three hits and collecting eight strikeouts against Eastern Michigan. Taylor became the third different Jayhawk pitcher to record a shutout in the team’s last 20 games, dating back to May 12 of last year. The senior has done it this season with dominating stuff. He has a team-best 21 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings this year, ranking him fourth in the Big 12 in strikeouts.
Taylor’s strikeout total gives him 192 for his career, which ranks 10th all-time at KU. He is just eight strikeouts behind Don Czyz (200) for ninth on the list and 10 behind Pete Smart for eighth (202).
Kansas Most Career Strikeouts
6. Jamie Splittorff (1993-95) 207
7. Eric Stonecipher (1989-91) 206
8. Pete Smart (1998-2001) 202
9. Don Czyz (2003-06) 200
10. Thomas Taylor (2010-present) 192
DOUBLE TROUBLE: Senior 3B Jordan Dreiling doubled four times in the four-game series against Eastern Michigan last weekend, giving him the conference lead with seven on the season. The fact that Dreiling leads the Big 12 in doubles through three weeks of the season is surprising considering that in his first three seasons at KU, the senior recorded just eight doubles in 217 at bats.
Dreiling has been KU’s most consistent offensive weapon this season, leading the team with a .426 batting average, nine runs scored and has four stolen bases. The senior went 10-for-19 (.526) with three multi-hit games in last weekend’s series against EMU. In the second game of the doubleheader on March 2, he matched a career high with four hits and scored three runs.
SMOOTH CRIMINALS: KU stole seven more bases in nine attempts against Eastern Michigan over the weekend, stealing all seven of them in their two wins in the series. The Jayhawks are 4-1 this season when they swipe multiple bases in a game and 4-0 when stealing three bags or more. As a team, KU leads the Big 12 and ranks 25th in the country with 21 steals in 30 attempts this year. The Jayhawks are also fourth in the league in stolen base percentage (21-for-30) at .700.
The Jayhawks have utilzed their running game a lot more this season. Through 11 games in 2012, KU had 10 steals in 15 attempts. KU did not pilfer its 21st base until April 10 (game 32).
AROUND THE HORN:
- After moving home series to alternate locations the past two weekends, KU will finally open its home schedule on Thursday against Niagara. Under head coach Ritch Price, the Jayhawks are 183-90-1 (.670) at Hoglund Ballpark, including 119-23 (.838) against non-conference opponents.
- Kansas is 9-1 in home opening games under head coach Ritch Price, with the lone loss coming to Creighton on Feb. 23, 2011.
- KU will be meeting a member of the Metro Atlantic Conference (MAAC) for the first time in school history.
- Kansas ranks second in the Big 12 in team batting average (.318), just one point behind Kansas State (.319). The team’s .318 average is its highest through 11 games since 2003, when the team batted .330 in its first 11 contests.
- The NCAA released its first round of national statistics on Tuesday and the Jayhawks rank in the Top 50 (of 297 teams) in several categories: KU is 22nd in batting average (.318), 46th in hits (70), 31st in stolen bases per game (1.91), 25th in steals (21), 36th in sacrifice bunts (11), sixth in sacrifice flies (12), 35th in on-base percentage (.400) and 20th in fielding percentage (.980).
- KU also leads the Big 12 Conference in a handful of statistical categories: The Jayhawks are first in the conference in on-base percentage (.400), tops in stolen bases (21) and first in sacrifice flies (12). KU is also tied for the conference lead, having allowed the fewest home runs (two) this season.
- The Jayhawks have been impressive in clutch situations this season. As a team, KU is batting .348 (64-for-184) with men on base, including a .368 average (42-for-114) with runners in scoring position.
- Through 11 games, KU has 27 two-out RBIs, while batting .346 (45-for-130) with two outs in an inning.
- KU’s defense has been outstanding again this season. The Jayhawks have committed just eight errors in 409 chances (.980), while throwing out 4-of-9 would-be base stealers and turning 10 double plays in 11 games.
- The Jayhawk outfield collected another assist in the Eastern Michigan series, giving them five for the season. Tucker Tharp and Dakota Smith have each recorded two assists, while Michael Suiter threw a runner out at the plate in the March 2 game.
- Kansas has collected 12 sacrifice flies in 11 games this season. In 2012, KU recorded just 14 all season.
- Freshman 1B/DH Jacob Boylan snapped his eight-game hitting streak in the first game of the March 2 doubleheader against Eastern Michigan. Boylan’s eight-game streak was the longest by a Jayhawk freshman since Tony Thompson hit in the last nine games of the 2008 season.
- Senior 1B/C Alex DeLeon collected a season high four RBIs in the March 2 win over Eastern Michigan. The senior has been exceptional in the clutch this season, batting .417 (5-for-12) with runners in scoring position and .444 (8-for-18) with two outs.
- Senior 3B Jordan Dreiling has reached base in all 11 games this season and scored nine runs.
- Junior C Ka’iana Eldredge has been productive when he gets on base. The third-year catcher has scored nine runs and reached base 10 times this year.
- Freshman 2B Tommy Mirabelli has been extremely effective in advancing runners. In 13 at bats with men on base, Mirabelli has advanced them 10 times (.769), including five times with a productive out.
- Sophomore IF Justin Protacio has been a pleasant surprise offensively. The second-year player is batting .323 and is tied for second on the team with eight RBIs in 10 games played. He has also drawn a team-high nine walks.
- Sophomore OF/P Dakota Smith homered in the third inning and then pitched a scoreless inning of relief on March 3 against Eastern Michigan. He became the first Jayhawk to hit a home run and pitch in the same game since Kevin Wheeler turned the trick against LSU on Feb. 6, 2003.
- Sophomore OF Michael Suiter has been a good catalyst for the Jayhawk offense. Suiter is batting .421 (8-for-19) with the bases empty this year and has reached base three times in the eight innings he’s led off (.375).
- Junior OF Tucker Tharp has been productive, despite a .231 batting average. The junior has reached base in 10 of KU’s 11 games and scored a team-best 11 runs.
- Freshman 1B Marcus Wheeler recorded his first multi-hit game on March 2 against Eastern Michigan, producing an RBI double as well as a two-out single in the extra-inning win.
- After the shortest outing of his career, sophomore LHP Wes Benjamin bounced back against Eastern Michigan on March 2. The sophomore recorded his first quality start, allowing three runs in seven innings against the Eagles.
- Junior RHP Frank Duncan recorded his third quality start of the season on March 1, allowing just two earned runs over 6 2/3 innings. In 18 career starts at KU, Duncan has 10 quality starts.
- Sophomore RHP Robert Kahana has been very effective pitching out of the windup this season. The second-year pitcher has allowed just one hit in 15 at bats when he is not holding runners on (.067).
- Junior RHP Jordan Piché has been good at getting out of trouble. The junior transfer has held opponents to a .133 batting average with men on base (2-for-15).
- One reason for RHP Thomas Taylor’s early success has been his ability to retire the leadoff man. In the 21 innings he’s started, Taylor has gotten the first hitter out 17 times (.810).
- Freshman LHP Tyler Watson has retired all five left-handed hitters that he’s faced this season.
UP NEXT: The Jayhawks will close their brief five-game homestand on Wednesday, March 13 when they face non-conference foe Jackson State at Hoglund Ballpark at 3 p.m. This will be the second meeting between the schools this season as KU downed the Tigers, 10-6, in Conway, Ark. on Feb. 23.