Jayhawks Face K-State with Big 12 Tournament Berth Up For Grabs

May 14, 2008

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The Jayhawks will face in-state rival Kansas State in a three-game series this weekend, which opens in Lawrence on Friday evening. The Jayhawks and Wildcats will tangle at 6 p.m. at Hoglund Ballpark Friday, before shifting the series to Tointon Stadium in Manhattan for Saturday (6:30 p.m.) and Sunday’s (2 p.m.) games. The final series of the regular season looms large for both squads. Both KU and K-State can clinch spots in the Big 12 Championship with series wins over the other this weekend.

All three games of the series will be carried live on KLWN-Radio (1320 AM), with Brian Hanni and Tom Hedrick on the call. Fans can access live video from Friday’s game at www.kuathletics.com, while gametracker will be available for all three games on the Jayhawks’ official web site.

Friday will mark the final home game for 11 KU seniors. The team will recognize all of them with a ceremony prior to first pitch.

The Series vs. K-State

Kansas leads the all-time series with K-State, 173-154 with one tie, dating back to 1898. KU is 84-62 against the Wildcats in Lawrence, but KSU leads 85-69 in games played in Manhattan. The Wildcats took all three games from KU last year, including a non-conference contest at Tointon Stadium on April 3. K-State finished a game ahead of the Jayhawks in the standings thanks to a two-game sweep on May 4-5. The final game of the series was rained out. K-State has won four-straight games over KU after the Jayhawks had won eight of the first 11 under Ritch Price.

Postseason Scenarios

Kansas needs the following to happen in order to advance to the Big 12 Championship in Oklahoma City next week:

– The Jayhawks can earn their way in with two victories over K-State this weekend. Depending on outcomes of other series, KU could be seeded No. 6, 7 or 8 at the tournament.

– If the Jayhawks lose two games to K-State, they would finish with the same conference record as the Wildcats, but would not own the tie-breaker (season series). KU would then need Oklahoma to lose at least two of its three remaining games against Oklahoma State to qualify.

– If the Jayhawks are swept by K-State, they would need Oklahoma State to sweep Oklahoma and Baylor to beat Texas Tech at least once in its three-game series.

Scouting the Wildcats

K-State enters the final weekend of the regular season having missed an opportunity to lock up a spot in the Big 12 Championship last weekend at Oklahoma. The Wildcats dropped the final two games of the series and sit one game behind Kansas and a half-game behind OU in ninth place. KSU can still qualify with a series win over the Jayhawks.

Senior second baseman Brett Scott leads the Wildcat offense with a .328 batting average and a .456 on-base percentage. Sophomore Justin Bloxom and junior Nate Tenbrink are tied for the team lead with eight homers each, while outfielder Adam Muenster has a team-high 17 stolen bases. The Wildcats are hitting .256 as a team and .259 in Big 12 games.

Senior Brad Hutt has been the team’s ace since day one, posting a team-high 84 2/3 innings pitched and 12 games started. Hutt is 5-4 with a 3.83 ERA and 36 strikeouts. Senior Daniel Edwards is the team’s closer and is tied with KU’s Paul Smyth for the conference lead in saves (10). Edwards has allowed opponents a .194 batting average against and has 43 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings. K-State’s team ERA is 5.10, including 6.56 in conference play.

Head coach Brad Hill is in his fifth season at K-State and has a record of 144-126-2 with the Wildcats. Hill is 563-217-2 in 14 seasons as a collegiate baseball coach, which includes nine years at Division II power Central Missouri. Hill led the Wildcats to a school-record 34 wins last season.

Noting the Jayhawks

– Kansas faces K-State in the final regular season series for both teams. As with other in-state rivals in the conference, the series is split between both teams’ home sites. KU is 18-6 at home and 3-13 on the road this season, while K-State is 16-11 at home, and 6-15 on the road.

– Kansas will be looking to punch its ticket to Oklahoma City for the Big 12 Baseball Championship, which begins May 21. KU has qualified for the conference tournament three times, including 2006, when the Jayhawks won the tourney.

– Kansas earned a thrilling 7-6 triumph over No. 14 Missouri on May 11, marking the Jayhawks’ fifth victory this season over a ranked opponent.

– Kansas head coach Ritch Price earned his 200th victory as the Jayhawks’ skipper May 2, downing Oklahoma, 17-15. Price became the third KU coach to amass 200 wins at the school and did it in 365 games, faster than both Dave Bingham (378 games) and Floyd Temple (441 games).

– The Jayhawks’ win on May 2 was one for the record books. KU trailed 11-5 and then 15-11 entering the bottom of the eighth, but scored six runs in the inning to complete a miraculous comeback. Coming from behind is nothing new for KU this year as the Jayhawks have rallied from five-run deficits to win three different games this season: vs. Dartmouth (March 20), vs. Northwestern (March 23) and against Missouri State (April 16).

– KU’s 3-0 shutout of 14th-ranked Missouri on April 29 marked the program’s first blanking of a nationally ranked opponent in 20 years. The last time the Jayhawks held a nationally ranked team scoreless was on May 7, 1988, when KU shut out then-No. 16 Oklahoma, 3-0.

– KU pitchers have proven to be very good at erasing base runners this season. The Jayhawks have picked 12 men off base, including two each by Nick Czyz, Shaeffer Hall, Sam Freeman and T.J. Walz. The 12 men picked off ranks as the top total in Ritch Price’s tenure at KU and the most since the Jayhawks collected 23 runners picked off in 2002.

– Junior catcher Buck Afenir collected base hits in the first two games of the Missouri series, including a two-run double in Sunday’s victory.

– Senior John Allman collected two hits in the first and third games of the Missouri series to take the team lead in multiple-hit games (20). Allman has also reached base in 21 of KU’s last 22 games, and scored at least one run in each of the last six.

– Utility infielder Matt Berner started in the final game of the Missouri series, marking his first start in a Big 12 game this season. Berner is batting .290 this season with a career high nine RBIs.

– Senior Justin Ellrich became the first Jayhawk to collect a pinch hit homer this season with a seventh inning round-tripper against Baylor on April 5. KU’s last pinch hit home run came on March 21, 2007, by Eric Snowden against Northern Colorado.

– Junior Nick Faunce went 3-for-5 with his third home run of the season in KU’s 7-6 victory. Faunce has been scorching hot over the past two weeks, going 6-for-8 with a double, two homers and four RBIs since the April 29 meeting with Missouri.

– Freshman Brian Heere did not score a run in his appearance as a pinch runner Friday against Missouri. It was Heere’s first game without scoring a run since a March 30 pinch running appearance against Texas A&M.

– Senior Erik Morrison snapped a six-game hitting streak, going 0-for-3 in Sunday’s finale against Missouri. It marked just the sixth hitless game for Morrison since the March 30 game against Texas A&M. During that time, Morrison has batted .326 (29-for-89) with 11 doubles, four homers and 17 RBIs.

– Sophomore Robby Price has torched Big 12 pitching this season. Price is batting .356 against conference opponents this season, including a .457 average (16-for-35) in KU’s last three Big 12 series. During this time, Price has reached base at a .525 clip, and has not struck out.

– Senior Ryne Price collected a pair of RBIs in the Missouri series to give him 59 for the season. Price’s 59 runs batted in are the most by a Jayhawk since Sean Richardson drove in 69 runs in 2004.

– Senior Joe Southers made his first start since April 26 on Sunday, and collected a double in three at-bats. Southers is batting .304 with runners in scoring position this year.

– Freshman Tony Thompson hit safely in all three games of the Missouri series, including three hits Friday against Aaron Crow. Thompson has at least one hit in his last seven conference games, and is batting .321 in Big 12 contests.

– Freshman Jimmy Waters collected a pinch hit single in Sunday’s loss to Missouri. Waters is 2-for-3 as a pinch hitter this season and is batting .333 over the team’s last 10 games.

– Junior Nick Czyz will make his 35th start in a Jayhawk uniform this Friday evening against K-State, matching him for the ninth-most starts in school history with Pete Smart, who played from 1998-2001. Czyz has allowed a .258 batting average against Big 12 opponents this season.

– Senior Andres Esquibel ran into trouble in the middle innings again Sunday against Missouri. Esquibel has a 4.18 ERA and a .243 batting average against in the first three innings of his starts, and a 9.00 ERA with a .292 batting average against in the middle innings.

– Junior Sam Freeman came on in the May 4 game against Oklahoma and retired left-hander Aaron Baker to end the seventh inning. Freeman earned his first hold of the season with that out.

– Senior Hiarali Garcia collected a pair of strike outs in his May 9 appearance against Missouri. Garcia has two strikeouts or more in eight of his 18 appearances.

– Sophomore Shaeffer Hall enjoyed the best start of his Kansas career April 29 against Missouri. The 6-foot-1 lefty held the 14th-ranked Tigers scoreless over seven innings, allowing five hits with four strikeouts. He also earned a win, pitching three innings of relief Saturday against Oklahoma.

– Junior Daniel Manos made a scoreless appearance April 15 against Baker. Manos has allowed runs in just one of his six appearances this season.

– Junior Paul Smyth earned his fifth victory in relief this season on Sunday. Smyth becomes the second Jayhawk reliever to collect five wins out of the bullpen in as many seasons. Last year Andres Esquibel went 5-1 in relief to lead the KU pen.

– Freshman T.J. Walz will be looking to bounce back from a rough start this weekend. Walz has had the typical ups-and-downs of a freshman pitcher, but has done a pretty good job of bouncing back. The freshman righty has been knocked around in three outings against Big 12 opponents and has come back with wins over Texas Tech (April 12) and Oklahoma (May 4) the first two times it has happened. His May 18 start against K-State will be another opportunity for him to return to form.

High Five

Kansas second baseman Robby Price recently became the first Jayhawk to collect five hits in a single game since 2004, when older brother Ritchie Price went 5-for-7 at Oklahoma State. Robby’s 5-for-5 effort against rival Missouri seemed to come straight from a Hollywood script.

Robby Price singled in the bottom of the first in the May 11 game against the Tigers, and injured his shoulder trying to break up a double play. Later in the game, Robby made a diving stop on a ground ball up the middle, and re-injured himself. Yet, neither injury nor the Tigers’ pitching staff could deny him.

In the bottom of the ninth, Price came up with the winning run on second, and delivered a game-winning single to left as the Jayhawks knocked off their archrivals and inched closer to the postseason.

S-M-Y-T-H Spells Relief

Kansas relief pitcher Paul Smyth has been a saving grace out of the bullpen this season for KU. The junior righty is tied for the Big 12 lead with 10 saves and leads the Jayhawks with five wins out of the bullpen. Smyth has made a league-high 32 appearances this season, including 16 in KU’s 24 Big 12 games.

Smyth has played a bigger role on the team this season due to injuries to two of KU’s starting pitchers. The righty’s 32 relief appearances are tied for the sixth-most in school history. While 15 of his 32 appearances have been two-inning stints or longer.

Allman Named Big 12 Player of the Week

Kansas senior left fielder John Allman was named the Big 12 Player of the Week on May 5. The 6-foot-2 outfielder becomes the first Jayhawk selected as the conference’s baseball player of the week since 2006.

Allman, a senior from St. Louis, Mo., hit .500 during this past week, leading the Jayhawks to a non-conference win over No. 14 Missouri and a sweep of conference foe Oklahoma. The senior outfielder collected eight hits in 16 at-bats, collecting a pair of doubles, a home run and six RBIs.

He went 3-for-4 in the April 29 game against Missouri, collecting a pair of important RBIs with an eighth-inning single in KU’s 3-0 triumph over the Tigers. On Saturday, he became the fourth different Jayhawk to record four hits in a game, helping KU defeat the Sooners, 13-10. The outfielder had two singles, a double and a home run in the game.

Home Sweet Home

Kansas will play its final regular season game of the 2008 season at Hoglund Ballpark on Friday, where it has been extremely successful. The Jayhawks are 18-6 in home contests this year and are hitting .319 at Hoglund Ballpark this season, compared to .241 on the road.

The Jayhawks have also pitched better at home this year, posting a 4.58 ERA in home games while they have a 7.10 ERA on the road.

KU’s best hitter at Hoglund this season has been John Allman, who is batting .487 with 11 doubles, four homers and 28 of his 45 RBIs in home games. Freshman T.J. Walz is 2-1 with a 2.98 ERA and an opponent batting average of .238 in eight appearances at Hoglund Ballpark.

Smyth Named to CBF National All-Star Lineup

Junior relief pitcher Paul Smyth was named to the College Baseball Foundation’s National All-Star Lineup for the week of May 7. Smyth becomes the second KU pitcher selected to the team this season, joining freshman T.J. Walz, who received the honor on April 23.

Smyth, a 6-foot-1 junior from Atascadero, Calif., earned three saves and a win last week, helping the Jayhawks defeat No. 14 Missouri (April 29) and sweep a three-game series against Oklahoma (May 2-4). The sweep of the Sooners was the first for KU since 1979. Smyth pitched two innings against the Tigers and allowed just one hit to preserve a 3-0 victory at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

Jayhawks in National Stats

During the 2008 season, the Jayhawks have put up some eye-opening numbers. Below are national team and individual rankings prior to games Tuesday:

– Left fielder John Allman ranks 45th in the country in times hit by pitch (15) and 69th in on-base percentage (.487).

– Second baseman Robby Price ranks first in the country in sacrifice bunts (23) and first in sacrifices per game (0.45).

– Outfielder/catcher Ryne Price ranks 38th in the country in runs batted in (59).

– Relief pitcher Paul Smyth ranks 15th in the nation in saves (10).

– As a team, KU ranks 55th in runs scored (370), 54th in doubles (108), 59th in home runs (52), 44th in sacrifice bunts (41) and 32nd in times hit by pitch (71).

Up Next

Should it qualify for the Big 12 Baseball Championship, KU will open play on Wednesday, May 21 at Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City. Time and opponent are yet to be determined.