Jayhawks Start Conference Play with No. 1 Longhorns This Weekend

March 19, 2009

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Kansas vs. Texas

The Kansas baseball team will open conference play this weekend with a three-game series against top-ranked Texas at Hoglund Ballpark. The Jayhawks and Longhorns will meet at 3 p.m. Friday afternoon, and at 1 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.

Audio and video from all three games will be available via Jayhawk All-Access on kuathletics.com. Tom Hedrick will call the action from Hoglund Ballpark.

Series History

The weekend set with the Longhorns will mark the 13th series between the schools as Big 12 rivals. Texas holds a 33-11 advantage in the all-time series, as well as a 28-8 record against KU in conference games. The Jayhawks last won a series from UT in 2005, when KU took two-of-three from the No. 2 team in the country. Kansas head coach Ritch Price is 5-14 in his career against the Longhorns.

About the Jayhawks

Kansas has won seven in a row at home, but have lost its last three. The Jayhawks dropped the final game of the Arizona State series, and fell by a single run in two games against San Diego State.

Kansas is led by catcher Buck Afenir’s .429 batting average and Shaeffer Hall’s 1.37 ERA. As a team, the Jayhawks are batting .279 with 35 doubles, 12 homers and 15 stolen bases. The pitching staff has compiled a 3.31 ERA and is allowing a .225 batting average to its opponents.

Scouting the Longhorns

Texas has been the top-ranked team in the Baseball America poll since the second week of the season. The Longhorns opened the year with 10-straight victories, but have gone just 3-4 in their last seven.

Junior infielder David Hernandez leads the Longhorn offense with a .345 batting average, and a team-high 19 base hits. Junior first baseman Brandon Belt is the top power threat for UT, with six doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs. As a team, the Longhorns have a .280 batting average.

Texas’ pitching staff has been among the best in college baseball. The weekend rotation of Chance Ruffin, Brandon Workman and Cole Green has a combined ERA of 1.54 with 18 walks and 70 strikeouts. Workman tossed a no-hitter earlier this year against Penn State. Texas’ closer, senior Austin Wood, has been virtually unhittable. Wood has a 3-0 record with three saves and an 0.50 ERA in 10 appearances this season.

UT finished with a 39-22 record last year and won the Big 12 Championship in Oklahoma City. The Longhorns advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 10th-straight season.

Last Time Out

Guy Willeford’s RBI single in the bottom of the ninth lifted San Diego State to a 9-8 triumph over the Kansas baseball team Wednesday evening and complete a wild two-game sweep of the Jayhawks at Tony Gwynn Stadium.

All Good Things Must End

Sophomore Tony Thompson went 0-for-3 in Tuesday’s game at San Diego State, snapping a streak of 23 consecutive games with at least one base hit.

Thompson’s hitting streak was the second-longest in Kansas baseball history, ranking just one behind Jared Schweitzer, who hit safely in 24 consecutive games in 2005.

The Kansas third baseman has been KU’s most consistent hitter throughout the season, batting .393 with seven doubles, four homers and 18 RBIs. During his streak, Thompson hit .425 (37-for-87) with eight doubles, six homers and 23 RBIs.

Afenir the Fire

Senior catcher Buck Afenir has been one of KU’s most consistent performers this season, batting .429 with two doubles, a triple and three home runs. However, one of the most noticeable differences between this year and last year for the senior catcher, has been his ability to make contact.

Last season, Afenir fanned 38 times in 164 at-bats (once every 3.8 at bats). This year, the senior catcher has just four strikeouts in 42 at-bats (once every 10.2 at bats). He has also on pace for career highs in walks (six) and on-base percentage (.510).

Afenir’s improvement at the plate has coincided with his progress behind it as well. The senior catcher has thrown out 60 percent of would-be base stealers and has just one passed ball in his first 14 games.

Can You Heere Now?

Sophomore Brian Heere has quietly become a solid contributor to the Jayhawks this season. Heere hit .389 (8-for-21) during the recent road trip with a pair of doubles and three runs scored.

He has collected multiple hits in three of his past four games, and shown some versatility, playing all three outfield positions.

During the fall season, Heere was one of the best producers, hitting over .400 in the team’s exhibition games. However, he struggled out of the gate this year, batting just .200 over the team’s first 12 games. He raised his batting average by 83 points during KU’s trip to Arizona and San Diego.

Quantum Lee-p

Freshman Lee Ridenhour has quickly become a dominating force on the mound for the Jayhawks this season. The first-year right-hander from Lenexa, Kan., has seems to be getting better with each start.

He took a tough 1-0 loss to San Diego State Tuesday night, but pitched beautifully, allowing just three hits over seven innings with one walk and a season-high eight strikeouts. Over his last three appearances, Ridenhour has allowed just one run on seven hits over 18 innings with three walks and 17 strikeouts.

He is currently on pace to set the KU freshman record for wins (nine), which is held by Jim Phillips.

Around the Horn

– The Jayhawks will face No. 1 Texas at Hoglund Ballpark this weekend to open Big 12 play. Last year, the Longhorns took two of three from KU in Austin.

– Kansas has not won its conference opening game since 2005, when the Jayhawks knocked off then-No. 9 Nebraska, 7-6. KU hasn’t won its first Big 12 series of the year since 2000.

– The three-game series with Texas will mark the first time KU has played a team ranked No. 1 in the country since it defeated Wichita State on April 1, 1993.

– KU has been impressive at home in Ritch Price’s tenure. Since the beginning of the 2008 season, the Jayhawks are 25-7 at Hoglund Ballpark, including 7-6 against Big 12 opponents.

– The Jayhawks have won seven straight at home leading into the Texas series, and are 24-1 in their last 25 games against non-conference opponents at home.

– With the win March 3 against UND, Kansas extended its winning streak in home openers to 10 straight years, including all seven under head coach Ritch Price.

Senior catcher Buck Afenir hit his 24th career home run in Wednesday’s loss to San Diego State. Afenir’s 24 homers rank as the second-most by a KU catcher (Jeff Niemeier, 26), and tied for the eighth-most by a Jayhawk at any position.

– Sophomore transfer Joe Lincoln went 1-for-4 in the March 10 game with Missouri Valley, collecting a base hit in KU’s three-run first.

– Catcher Chris Manship made 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 collected one of four Jayhawk hits in Tuesday’s game against San Diego State. Land also had his first successful sacrifice bunt in Wednesday’s game.

– Freshman Zac Elgie had another RBI without the benefit of a base hit. Elgie collected his second sac fly of the season, to go along with three other run-producing outs.

– Junior second baseman Robby Price has to be excited to return to Hoglund Ballpark. The third-year infielder is batting .316 in home games with two doubles, two homers and seven RBIs. He is batting just .222 away from home.

– Freshman infielder James Stanfield made his first start in a Kansas uniform Saturday, going 1-for-3 with a double and a run scored.

– Junior shortstop David Narodowski has been a very streaky hitter this season, but also seems to favor games at Hoglund Ballpark. Narodowski is batting .478 (11-for-23) with two doubles and 10 runs scored in KU’s home games this season.

– Sophomore Tony Thompson snapped his 23-game hitting streak Tuesday, but came back with a 2-for-3 effort on Wednesday against the Aztecs with a double and an RBI. Dating back to April 15 of last year, Thompson has hit safely in 31 of 35 games and is batting .379 during that stretch with 10 doubles, seven homers and 30 RBIs.

– Freshman left fielder Jake Marasco went 2-for-6 in the Northwestern series, which included his first career triple in the first game on March 6.

– Senior Nick Faunce hit a grand slam in KU’s rally Sunday against the Sun Devils. Faunce’s slam was the first of his career, and first by a Jayhawk since Ryne Price hit a home run with the bases loaded against Le Moyne last season.

– Freshman Jason Brunansky recorded his second two-hit game March 13 against Arizona State, and also made a pair of highlight reel catches in the game.

– Sophomore Brian Heere has three consecutive two-hit games, and batted .381 during the previous road trip. Heere also recorded four walks for a .480 on-base percentage during that stretch.

– Sophomore Casey Lytle has been outstanding against left-handed pitching the season. The second-year outfielder is batting .471 (8-for-17) against southpaws this season.

– Sophomore Jimmy Waters recorded a pair of singles in Wednesday’s contest with San Diego State. Waters has hit .364 in home games this season.

– Junior transfer Brett Lisher collected a game-tying single in the ninth inning against No. 21 Arkansas on Feb. 26, his first RBI in a Jayhawk uniform.

– Junior transfer Travis Blankenship allowed a lone base hit over 1 1/3 innings Wednesday and stood to be the winning pitcher after KU’s rally. During the road trip, Blankenship made three appearances and allowed just two singles and recorded three strikeouts.

– Sophomore Brett Bochy bounced back from a rough outing against Arizona State by pitching a perfect eighth inning Tuesday in relief of Lee Ridenhour. The second-year reliever has KU’s best strikeout percentage, averaging 11.74 k’s for every nine innings.

– Junior Brett Bollman made his first career start against Missouri Valley March 10. Other than a solo home run in the second inning, the junior was flawless, going three innings for the win, his first of the season.

– Freshman Kelson Boyer made a four-inning relief appearance March 10 against Missouri Valley. Despite allowing five base hits, Boyer held the Vikings scoreless in his stint.

– Freshman Kevin Burk stopped the bleeding in last Sunday’s game against Arizona State, pitching an inning and 2/3 of scoreless relief. Burk gave up a pair of hits and walked two batters, but tallied a pair of strikeouts.

– Junior Shaeffer Hall took the loss in last Friday’s game against Arizona State, giving up five unearned runs. The lefty has surrendered 13 runs this year, but only four of them have been earned.

– Freshman Colton Murray pitched two scoreless innings March 13 against Arizona State to keep the game within reach. Murray faced five Sun Devil hitters, and retired all of them, including a pair via strikeouts.

– Freshman Lee Ridenhour again dominated a non-conference opponent. He allowed just three hits and one run to San Diego State Tuesday, but was saddled with the loss. Ridenhour has allowed just eight base runners over his last two starts, which span 15 innings.

– Senior Paul Smyth recorded his third save of the year March 14 against Arizona State. The 6-foot righty has been dominant at home, retiring all 12 men he’s faced at Hoglund Ballpark.

– Sophomore T.J. Walz earned his second victory of the season in the second game of the series against No. 4 Arizona State. Walz has beaten two ranked teams in his career, with both of them coming on the road.

Two Jayhawks Up for National Awards

Two members of the Kansas baseball team, senior catcher Buck Afenir and senior outfielder Nick Faunce, are in the running for national awards.

Afenir has been named to the watch list for the Coleman Company’s Johnny Bench Award – which honors the top catcher in college baseball each year. Faunce is one of 30 national finalists for the Senior CLASS Award presented by Lowe’s, which honors the top senior student-athlete in college baseball.

Jayhawks Tour Kansas City Royals’ Camp

Prior to their 3-2 win Saturday, members of the Kansas baseball team were given the opportunity to visit spring training camp with the Kansas City Royals. The Jayhawks are playing a three-game series with No. 4 Arizona State this weekend at Surprise Stadium – the spring training home of the Royals.

The Jayhawks arrived at the complex around 9:30 a.m., and were greeted by Royals’ manager Trey Hillman, who addressed the team after his morning media session. KU players were also able to talk to Kansas City legends Frank White, Kevin Seitzer and George Brett.

Up Next

The Jayhawks will wrap up a brief five-game homestand by hosting Western Illinois in a two-game non-conference series next Tuesday and Wednesday. Both games are scheduled to start at 3 p.m.