Jayhawks Host Western Illinois in Mid-Week Series

March 23, 2009

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Kansas vs. Western Illinois

After collecting the first series sweep of a No. 1-ranked team in program history, the Kansas baseball team will look to continue its winning ways with a two-game mid-week set against Western Illinois. The Jayhawks and Leathernecks will meet at 3 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday at Hoglund Ballpark.

Gametracker will be available for both games of the Western Illinois series at kuathletics.com.

Series History

Kansas holds a perfect 14-0 record all-time against the Leathernecks, in a series that dates back to 2003. The Jayhawks swept a doubleheader from WIU on March 4, 2007, in the most recent meetings between the schools.

About the Jayhawks

Kansas is receiving votes in the latest USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Poll. This marks the first time since early in the 2007 season that the team has been recognized in any of the major national polls. KU is in the midst of a 10-game home winning streak, the longest since 2001-02.

Senior catcher Buck Afenir leads the team with a .404 batting average, while third baseman Tony Thompson has eight doubles, four homers and 19 RBIs. Freshman Lee Ridenhour has a 3-1 record with a 1.82 ERA to lead the starting pitchers.

As a team, KU is batting .281 with 38 doubles and 12 homers. The Jayhawk pitching staff has a 3.27 ERA and is holding its opponents to a .225 batting average.

Scouting the Leathernecks

Western Illinois has played one of the most daunting schedules in college baseball, playing nine of their 13 games against Top 25 opponents. After starting the season with seven straight losses, WIU is 3-3 in its last six, including a 7-4 win at No. 12 Oklahoma State.

Senior outfielder Tyler Tilbury leads the Leathernecks with a .364 batting average, while senior infielder Tyler Metcalf is hitting .300 with three doubles, two homers and a team-high 13 RBIs.

Kansas will likely see lefty John Sneegas in Tuesday evening’s game. Sneegas, a 5-foot-11 junior from Lawrence, is 1-1 with a 3.46 ERA in two starts this season. Teams are hitting .261 against the WIU starter. As a team, the Leathernecks have an ERA of 10.65, and have 63 strikeouts in 107 1/3 innings.

The Leathernecks return seven position starters and three pitchers from last year’s team, which went 21-33 overall, and placed third in the Summit League.

Last Time Out

Sophomore Brian Heere went 2-for-4 and scored the winning run on a Buck Afenir sacrifice fly, while Lee Ridenhour pitched 6 2/3 solid innings as Kansas completed a three-game sweep of No. 1 Texas, 4-3 Sunday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark. The sweep is the first over a top-ranked team in Jayhawk baseball history.

Can You Heere Now?

Sophomore Brian Heere has quietly become one of the top producers in the Kansas lineup. He has hit safely in eight straight games, dating back to the first game of the Arizona State series, and has multiple hits in five of those contests.

Since the beginning of March, Heere is batting .364 with three doubles and a homer. He has also reached base at a .463 percentage, drawing nine walks.

Heere has done the little things well all season, drawing a team high 12 walks. He is also tied for the team lead with a pair of sacrifice flies and has played error free while roaming the outfield.

Call to the ‘Pen

In the three game sweep of No. 1 Texas, the Kansas bullpen flexed its muscles. The Jayhawk relievers pitched eight innings and did not allow a run, while giving up just five hits.

KU junior Travis Blankenship earned a pair of wins in relief, while senior Paul Smyth recorded three saves by pitching the ninth inning in all three KU wins.

The group of relievers had their ups and downs early in the season, but seem to be on top of their game at home. In KU’s 10 home wins, the KU bullpen is 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA and is 6-for-6 in save opportunities.

Giant Killers

In the first 20 games of the season, Kansas has proven that it can compete with the best in college baseball. Following a three-game sweep of No. 1 Texas, the Jayhawks improved to 5-3 against nationally ranked opponents, including a 4-2 mark against teams ranked in the top five.

The Jayhawks won just four games against ranked opponents last season, and six in 2007.

The Kansas record for most wins against ranked opponents was set in 2006, when the Jayhawks downed 14 teams that were ranked in the Top 25 at the time of the game.

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.

Ridenhour did not receive a decision in his Sunday outing against No. 1 Texas, where he scattered eight hits over 6 2/3 innings and allowed two earned runs with no walks and four strikeouts. Over his last three appearances – all of which have been quality starts – Ridenhour has an ERA of 1.25 and has allowed four runs on 14 hits over 21 1/3 innings. He also has two walks and 17 strikeouts in that span.

Around the Horn

– The Jayhawks host Western Illinois in a two-game non-conference series this week. KU is 7-0 at home against non-Big 12 opponents and 24-1 in its last 25 games against non-league foes at Hoglund Ballpark.

– The Jayhawks are coming off a three-game sweep of then No. 1 Texas last weekend. The sweep of the Longhorns was the first by a KU baseball team, and the first by a Jayhawk team over a No. 1 ranked opponent.

– KU’s 3-0 start in Big 12 play is the best by a Jayhawk team since 1994, when the team started 3-0 as a member of the Big Eight Conference.

– KU has been impressive at home in Ritch Price’s tenure. Since the beginning of the 2008 season, the Jayhawks are 28-7 at Hoglund Ballpark.

– The Jayhawks have turned the tables on one-run ballgames. KU earned three victories over the weekend by a single run after dropping 5-of-7 one-run decisions to start the year.

– 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 collected two hits Friday afternoon against No. 1 Texas. It was the senior’s eighth multi-hit game of the season, and fifth against a ranked opponent.

– 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 turned things around just in time for the start of conference play. Land, who was hitting .206 against non-conference opponents, went 5-for-12 in the Texas series with a double and a big RBI in Friday’s win.

– Freshman Zac Elgie had another RBI without the benefit of a base hit. Elgie collected his second sac fly of the season against San Diego State on March 18, to go along with three other run-producing outs.

– Junior second baseman Robby Price has done a terrific job of setting the table for the middle of the order. When Price leads off an inning, he has reached base at a .545 clip.

– Freshman infielder James Stanfield made his first start in a Kansas uniform on March 7 against Northwestern, going 1-for-3 with a double and a run scored.

– Junior shortstop David Narodowski went 5-for-12 in his first Big 12 series with three runs scored. The junior transfer leads the team with 20 runs scored and has reached base 28 times.

– Sophomore Tony Thompson snapped his 23-game hitting streak March 17, but came back with a 2-for-3 effort on the following night against the San Diego State with a double and an RBI. Dating back to April 15 of last year, Thompson has hit safely in 32 of 38.

– 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 has been a clutch performer this season, collecting a .348 batting average with two outs in the inning. Faunce also has a .367 batting average with men on base.

– Freshman Jason Brunansky recorded his third two-hit game of the season March 13 against Texas. All three of his multi-hit games this season were done on a Friday.

– Sophomore Brian Heere has been a clutch performer for KU this season. The right fielder is batting .421 with men on base and .357 with runners in scoring position. He also has a .333 average in at bats after the sixth inning.

– 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 had a big two-run hit in KU’s win Saturday against Texas. Waters has been a pretty good RBI man for the Jayhawks, batting .375 with men on base, compared to just .150 with the bases empty.

– 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 made three appearances of less than an inning, and picked up a pair of wins this weekend. A left-handed reliever, Blankenship has allowed a .143 batting average to left-handed and right-handed hitters.

– Sophomore Brett Bochy made a pair of scoreless appearances in the Texas series, earning a pair of holds. Bochy has strikeouts in 20 of his 23 career appearances in a KU uniform.

– 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 the March 15 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 earned his second victory of the season Friday against Texas, and first since his no-hitter on opening day. Hall has done an excellent job this season of finishing innings. Teams are batting .083 (3-for-36) against the lefty with two outs.

– Freshman Colton Murray made a pair of scoreless appearances in the Texas series to help bridge the gap to the ninth inning. Murray has started nine innings for KU this year, and has allowed the leadoff man to reach just twice.

– Freshman Lee Ridenhour continues to pound the strikezone. The first-year righty has allowed just four walks in his last five starts, after walking three in his college debut, Feb. 24.

– Senior Paul Smyth has been unstoppable at home. The reliever has not allowed a run in his seven appearances at Hoglund Ballpark this season, while opponents are batting just .125 against him.

– Sophomore T.J. Walz has allowed just four extra base hits in 24 2/3 innings this season. The second-year righty has allowed 23 hits in his outings, but hasn’t been hurt by them, giving up just nine earned runs.

All Good Things Must End

Sophomore Tony Thompson went 0-for-3 in the March 17 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.

Up Next

The Jayhawks will travel to College Station, Texas this weekend to face No. 15 Texas A&M in their second Big 12 series of the season. KU will meet the Aggies Friday night at 6:05 p.m., Saturday at 2:05 p.m., and Sunday at 12:05 p.m. All three games can be heard via internet broadcast on kuathletics.com.