Jayhawks-Wildcats Face Off in Final Weekend of Regular Season

May 11, 2009

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Kansas vs. Kansas State

After dropping its first Big 12 series in nearly a month, the Kansas baseball team will look to close the regular season on a high note when it faces in-state rival Kansas State in a three-game series. The Jayhawks and Wildcats will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Friday in Manhattan, Kan., before completing the series in Lawrence with 6 p.m. games both Saturday and Sunday.

Sunday’s contest will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net (Channel 36 – Sunflower Cable), while all three games will be available on KLWN (1320 AM) with Tom Hedrick and Brian Hanni calling the action.

Sunday’s game will also feature a pre-game ceremony honoring KU’s four-member senior class. Seniors Buck Afenir, Nick Faunce, Preston Land and Paul Smyth will be recognized for their four years in the Crimson and Blue.

Series History

This will mark the second straight year that the Jayhawks and Wildcats have completed the regular season against each other. Friday’s contest will be the 332nd all-time meeting in the series with Kansas holding a 173-157 edge with one tie. However, in recent contests K-State has had the Jayhawks’ number, winning seven-straight meetings dating back to the 2006 season. The Wildcats swept Kansas last season, preventing the Jayhawks from advancing to postseason play.

About the Jayhawks

After going 2-2 last week, Kansas fell out of the Top 25, but is receiving votes in both the National Collegiate Baseball Writers’ Association and USA Today polls.

Sophomore Brian Heere leads the KU offense with a .365 batting average and a .465 on-base percentage, while fellow sophomore Tony Thompson paces the Big 12 with 17 homers and 71 RBIs. As a team, KU is batting .301.

Sophomore T.J. Walz has been the team’s top starting pitcher, posting a 7-1 record with a 3.67 ERA in 11 starts. Senior Paul Smyth leads the team with nine saves. KU’s pitching staff has a 4.16 ERA, while opponents are batting .258 against the Jayhawks.

Scouting the Wildcats

No. 11 Kansas State continues to be the biggest surprise of the Big 12 this season. The Wildcats have posted a program-best 38 victories this season and are on their way to the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Sophomore infielder Carter Jurica leads the K-State offense with a .369 batting average, 14 doubles and 41 RBIs, while senior Jordan Cruz is the top power hitter with a .318 average, 10 homers and 44 RBIs. As a team, K-State is batting .322.

On the mound, junior A.J. Morris has been the best pitcher in the Big 12 this year, posting an 11-1 record with a 1.67 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 91 2/3 innings this season. Morris has allowed just 16 extra base hits in his 13 starts. Sophomore Thomas Rooke has been the Wildcats’ bullpen ace, going 5-1 with four saves in 27 relief appearances this year.

K-State returns 14 letterwinners and six position starters from last year’s team, which advanced to the Big 12 Championship game.

Last Time Out

Two players hit ninth inning home runs Sunday. Kansas sophomore Tony Thompson hit a grand slam in the top of the frame to tie the contest, however Ryan Ampleman’s walk-off solo shot gave Missouri a 13-12 victory over No. 23 Kansas and the series win at Taylor Stadium.

Standing in Our Way

With Oklahoma State’s loss on Friday evening, Kansas clinched a spot in the Big 12 Baseball Championship, which begins Wednesday, May 20 in Oklahoma City. However, the team has much to decide in the final weekend of Big 12 play.

A series win over Sunflower Showdown rival Kansas State could move the Jayhawks as high as third in the conference standings, while KU losses could drop it to eighth. Kansas has never finished higher than fifth in the Big 12 (2006).

Tony, Tony, Tony

Sophomore Tony Thompson hit two more homers and drove in five runs during the Missouri series to bring his Big 12 lead to 17 round-trippers and 71 RBIs this season. His season totals in both categories are tied for the second-most by a Jayhawk all-time.

Thompson has consistently been the driving force in the Kansas offense this season. He is in the midst of his third 10-plus game hitting streak, which includes five multi-hit games over the past two weeks. He has made 51 starts this season, and hit safely in 43 of those games, while his three multi-homer games are tied for the most in the Big 12 this year.

Casey at the Bat

Kansas sophomore left fielder Casey Lytle enjoyed a very productive week on the road against rivals Missouri and Wichita State. The sophomore went 8-for-17 during the four-game stretch with a double, triple and home run, and also stole three bases.

Lytle recorded a career-high four hits in KU’s 7-4 triumph at Missouri on Saturday. It was the sophomore’s second multi-hit game of the week, after a two-hit game at Wichita State Wednesday.

The sophomore struggled in the middle of the year after a quick start, but has come on as of late. Lytle has hit safely in 10 of 12 games, dating back to the Nebraska series, and is batting .341 during that time frame.

Strength in Sophomores

While 2007 may have been a rough season for Ritch Price and the Jayhawks on the field, the recruiting class that Price landed that season has sure made a big difference during KU’s run to the Big 12 Championship. Several of KU’s most productive players this season are in their second year with the team.

Sophomore Tony Thompson is a series candidate for Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, leading the league in homers (17), RBIs (71) and total bases (146). However, several other second-year players have also gotten the job done this season.

Sophomore Brian Heere, who actually took a redshirt during the 2007 season, leads the team in hitting (.367) and has started 45 games in right field, while left fielder Casey Lytle has also seen his playing time and production increase in his season year.

The pitching staff is led by sophomore T.J. Walz, and his 7-1 record. Walz came to KU as a walk-on, but has posted an 11-2 record in his career. Sophomore Brett Bochy is also 5-0 and is third on the team in strikeouts (47).

Around the Horn

– Kansas will close the season with Sunflower Showdown rival Kansas State for the second straight season. KU hasn’t won a three-game series from the Wildcats since 2006.

– With the win at Missouri Saturday, the Jayhawks earned their 13th win in conference play this season, matching the program’s high in the Big 12 era. The team record for conference wins is 17, which was done twice while the team was a member of the Big Eight Conference (1993 and 1994).

– After Friday night’s game in Manhattan, Kan., the Jayhawks will return to the friendly confines of Hoglund Ballpark, where the team has gone 23-3, and lost just one series this season. KU’s 23 home wins are the third-most in team history and the team’s highest total since 1994 (25).

– Kansas has been pretty good against ranked opponents this season. The Jayhawks have gone 11-9 against the Top 25, including three-game sweeps of then-No. 1 Texas (March 20-22) and then-No. 17 Oklahoma State (April 10-12).

– Scoring early has been an important part of KU’s success this season. The Jayhawks are 16-4 when the team leads after the first inning, and 26-7 when it scores first. KU has outscored the opposition 59-28 in the first inning this year.

– The Jayhawks took two of three games from then-No. 9 Oklahoma in Norman May 1-3 to earn the team’s first series win against a ranked team on the road in three seasons. KU’s last road series win over a ranked team came at Stanford in 2006.

– Kansas swept back-to-back doubleheaders, taking down Nebraska and Chicago State in twinbills at the end of April. KU has played three home doubleheaders this season, and swept all of them.

– The Jayhawks downed Border Showdown rival Missouri at Kauffman Stadium the evening of April 22, 7-3, to improve to 5-4 in games played at major league ballparks. KU has won both annual meetings with MU at the home of the Kansas City Royals (also won 3-0 in 2008’s game).

– Kansas brushed off Oklahoma State in a three-game sweep April 10-12, the Jayhawks’ first sweep of the Cowboys since March 26-28, 1993.

– The Jayhawks collected 17 singles and no extra base hits in their win at Iowa on April 7. It marked the most hits KU has had in a game without an extra base hit since a 2004 win at Hawaii-Hilo.

– Kansas swept then-No. 1 Texas March 20-22, which was the Jayhawks’ first-ever sweep of the Longhorns and first sweep of a No. 1 ranked team. The win over UT on March 20 was KU’s first over a top-ranked team since 1993.

– 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 base hits in all three games during the Missouri series last weekend, including a three-run homer in Friday’s loss. Afenir has hit safely in 20 of 24 Big 12 contests this season, which including a 13-game hitting streak in conference games.

– Sophomore transfer Joe Lincoln tallied his first multi-hit game of the season April 28 against Chicago State. Both of Lincoln’s hits drove in runs, including a two-out double in the third inning, which capped a rally.

– Catcher Chris Manship collected his first collegiate hit as a pinch hitter in the April 5 loss to Baylor. Manship is the 16th Jayhawk to record a base hit this season.

– Senior first baseman Preston Land had just three hits in four games against Missouri this season, but made them all count. Land drove in six runs with his three hits, including a three-run homer in the Jayhawks’ 7-3 win over the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium April 22.

– Freshman Zac Elgie went 0-for-5 Saturday to drop his batting average below .300 for the first time since March. During the month of April, Elgie came of age, hitting .405 with 12 RBIs and his first two collegiate home runs.

– Junior second baseman Robby Price did a great job of setting the table for the middle of the order in the Missouri series. The junior hit .444 in the series and was also plunked twice and drew a pair of walks for a .615 on-base percentage. Price leads the Jayhawks with 36 walks this season.

– Freshman infielder James Stanfield filled in admirably for an injured Robby Price on April 26, going 2-for-7 in the junior’s absence with three RBIs and three runs scored.

– Junior shortstop David Narodowski collected a season-high four hits in the Saturday game at Missouri. The junior finished just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle, with two doubles, a homer and a single in the game. Narodowski is tied for the team lead with 11 multi-hit games in the Big 12.

– Sophomore Tony Thompson hit his first career grand slam in the ninth inning to tie the game Sunday at Missouri. Hitting home runs on Sunday has become routine for the Kansas slugger as seven of his 17 homers have come on the first day of the week.

– Sophomore Greg Herbst went 1-for-3 on April 21 against Baker. Herbst has now hit safely in four of his last five starts.

– Senior Nick Faunce returned to action this weekend after missing 13 games with an injury. Faunce collected a base hit and scored a run in Sunday’s game at Missouri.

– Freshman Jason Brunansky went 1-for-3 in the Missouri series, but left Friday’s game after crashing into the wall in center field. Brunansky has hit .327 away from Hoglund Ballpark this season.

– Sophomore Brian Heere showed some rare power last week, hitting home runs at Wichita State Wednesday and at Missouri on Saturday. Heere has five homers this season, with three of them coming after the seventh inning.

– Sophomore Casey Lytle recorded a career-high four hits, including his second home run of the season Saturday. Lytle has hit .341 over his last 12 games.

– Junior transfer Brett Lisher recorded his first multi-hit game in a Kansas uniform April 28, going 2-for-4 against Chicago State. Lisher has hit well against left-handed pitching, batting .444 against southpaws this season.

– Sophomore Brett Bochy enduced a ground out to end a bases loaded threat in the eighth inning Saturday in Columbia, Mo. Opponents have hit just .254 against the right-handed relief pitcher.

– Junior Brett Bollman retired four hitters out of the bullpen May 6 at Wichita State. Bollman has not walked a batter since the April 22 game against Missouri at Kauffman Stadium, a stretch that goes back 15 innings.

– Junior Travis Blankenship had two quality innings from the mound during the Missouri series. Blankenship has made a league-high 32 relief appearances this season and has held lefties to a .164 batting average.

– Freshman Kevin Burk pitched a scoreless inning April 28 against Chicago State. Burk has now held opponents scoreless over his last 6 1/3 innings.

– Junior Shaeffer Hall continues to hold an impressive walk rate. Hall has walked just 10 hitters in 72 2/3 innings this season, or just 1.23 every nine innings.

– Junior Thomas Marcin pitched an inning of relief April 28 against Chicago State. Marcin has held opponents to a .208 batting average this season.

– Senior Paul Smyth posted his ninth save of the season in Saturday’s 7-4 win at Missouri. Smyth’s nine saves are the fifth-best single season total in team history, while his 27 career saves is second to just Don Czyz (31).

– Sophomore T.J. Walz earned his seventh win of the season Saturday at Missouri. Walz’ seven victories are the most by a Jayhawk since Kodiak Quick posted a team-best 11 wins in 2006.

Up Next

The Kansas baseball team will participate in the 13th annual Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship April 20-24at Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.

Times and opponents will be determined by the final conference standings. All of KU’s games in Oklahoma City will be broadcast by KLWN (1320 AM) with Brian Hanni and Tom Hedrick on the call.