Jayhawks to Face Kansas State Wednesday at Big 12 Baseball Championship

May 19, 2009

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Kansas at Big 12 Championship

Kansas will face a familiar foe, Kansas State, in the first game of the 2009 Big 12 Championship Wednesday at Bricktown Ballpark. The Jayhawks and Wildcats will open the conference tournament at 9 a.m., after meeting in a three-game split series this past weekend. This will be the teams’ first Big 12 Championship meeting.

KU will also play top-seeded Texas as well as eighth-seeded Baylor in pool play.

All three of Kansas’ Big 12 Championship games will be broadcast by KLWN (1320 AM) with Brian Hanni and Tom Hedrick calling the action.

Series History

KU and K-State will meet in the postseason for the first time since the 1996 Big Eight Tournament. The teams met four other times in the postseason – all at the Big Eight Tournament (1976, 1983, 1995 and 1996) – with the teams splitting those games. Kansas leads the all-time series with the Wildcats, 175-158, with one tie. The Jayhawks took two of three in a split series from K-State over the weekend, winning both contests in Lawrence.

About the Jayhawks

Kansas returns to the Big 12 Championship for the first time since winning the tournament in 2006. The Jayhawks are 4-4 all-time in Big 12 Championship play, and 11-22 in conference tournaments.

The Jayhawks returned to the Top 25 this week, entering the Rivals.com poll at No. 24. KU is also receiving votes in the USA Today and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association polls.

Sophomore Brian Heere leads the team with a .363 batting average, while fellow sophomore Tony Thompson leads the Big 12 in homers (18), RBIs (74) and slugging percentage (.711). As a team, KU is batting .304 with 51 homers and averages 7.4 runs per game.

On the mound, sophomore T.J. Walz leads the team with an 8-1 record and a 3.50 ERA in 12 starts. Walz has recorded 80 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings this season. Out of the bullpen, senior Paul Smyth leads the team with nine saves. As a staff, KU’s team ERA is 4.20 while allowing opponents a .262 batting average.

Scouting the Wildcats

Kansas State is making its third-straight appearance in the Big 12 Championship after reaching the title game last season. The Wildcats’ fourth-place finish in the Big 12 is the team’s highest since the formation of the conference in 1997. K-State is 5-6 all-time at the conference’s postseason tournament.

Sophomore Carter Jurica leads the Wildcats with a .366 batting average and 57 runs scored this season, while senior Jordan Cruz paces the team with 10 homers. Over the weekend, Cruz led the K-State offense, going 4-for-9 with a double and two RBIs, while catcher Rob Vaughn hit a pair of homers.

On the mound, the Jayhawks will face senior lefty Lance Hoge for the second time in five days. Hoge went just two innings and took the loss in Saturday’s game in Lawrence, but is 5-4 this season with a 4.52 ERA in 13 starts, and has held opponents to a .268 batting average. Freshman righty James Allen leads the Wildcats with five saves this season.

Last Time Out

Senior Nick Faunce recorded a career high five hits, while senior Buck Afenir went 2-for-3 with his ninth home run of the season as Kansas wrapped up the regular season with a 17-7 triumph over No. 11 Kansas State on Senior Day Sunday evening at Hoglund Ballpark.

Tony, Tony, Tony

Sophomore Tony Thompson blasted his record-tying 18th home run of the season and continued at his torrid pace against Kansas State over the weekend. Thompson, who is in the midst of another 13-game hitting streak, batted .364 in the series with two doubles and a homer. During the month of May, Thompson is batting .386 with six doubles, six homers and 20 RBIs.

Thompson has taken the advice of his head coach and made his production “All About Sunday”. In Sunday games this season, the sophomore is hitting .404 with seven doubles, eight homers and 25 RBIs. He has homered in each of KU’s last three Sunday games, including a two-homer effort on May 3 at Oklahoma.

His 18 home runs this year tie him with former Jayhawk Travis Metcalf for most in a single-season.

Bucking the Trend

Senior catcher Buck Afenir was named Big 12 Player of the Week after a monster weekend capped an incredible regular season. Afenir hit .556 against Kansas State, including a pair of two-run homers in the final two games of the series.

Afenir, a semi-finalist for the Johnny Bench Award, raised his season batting average back to .351 – nearly 100 points higher than his total from last season. He also leads the team in batting average (.370) and is tied for the lead in RBIs (38) in Big 12 games.

But perhaps most surprising development this year has been his ability to control the running game this season. Afenir has thrown out 41 percent of would-be base-stealers and has allowed just 16 stolen bases in 44 starts behind the plate. Last season, Afenir threw out just 25 percent and allowed 30 steals in 39 games.

Bochy Ball

Sophomore relief pitcher Brett Bochy recorded three strikeouts in the Kansas State series to give him 50 k’s in just 31 2/3 innings out of the bullpen this season. The second-year righty – who was the co-winner of the Tom Hedrick Most Improved Player Award – became just the sixth Kansas relief pitcher to record 50 or more strikeouts without a start.

Bochy’s 14.21 strikeouts per nine innings is the top average among that list, and would lead the Big 12 this year if he qualified for the minimum number of innings pitched. Below is a look at KU relievers who have reached the 50-strikeout plateau.

Home, Sweet Home

Kansas made a habit of winning at home this season. The team’s 25-3 record at Hoglund Ballpark was the best home winning percentage in school history (.893) and tied for the second-most home wins. While the Jayhawks took care of business against non-conference foes early in the year, they also posted a 9-2 record against the Top 25 at Hoglund Ballpark, including a three-game sweep of then-No. 1 Texas in March.

Around the Horn

– Kansas will participate in its fourth Big 12 Baseball Championship this week, facing Baylor, Kansas State and Texas in pool play. KU has won its last four Big 12 Championship games, dating back to an extra innings loss in 2005.

– KU is the tournament’s No. 5 seed, which is the highest placing by the Jayhawks during its years in the Big 12. Kansas’ fifth-place conference finish is its best since placing third in the Big Eight Conference in 1994.

– Kansas’ 15-12 conference record was also its best during the Big 12 era, and also its most conference wins since 1994 (17).

– The Jayhawks have owned the first inning throughout the season, outscoring their opponents 61-28 in the opening frame. KU is 19-7 when it does produce at least one run in the first inning this year, including a pair of wins this past weekend against Kansas State.

– KU has hit .304 as a team, its highest average since 2004, when the Jayhawks batted .316.

– A big reason for KU’s success this year has been the stellar starting pitching. The Jayhawks have 19 quality starts this season, compared to just 10 in 2008. The Kansas starters have combined to go 25-10 this year with a 4.06 ERA.

– KU has done its best work against some of the very best in the country. The Jayhawks have a 13-10 record against Top 25 teams this season, including a 7-5 mark against teams ranked in the Top 10. Included in this record is a three-game sweep of then-No. 1 Texas (March 18-20) and a series win at then-No. 9 Oklahoma (May 1-3).

– KU extracted a measure of revenge against Kansas State this season. After being swept out of the postseason by their Sunflower Showdown rival, the Jayhawks took two of three from the 11th-ranked Wildcats to wrap up the regular season.

– 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, 7-3, at Kauffman Stadium on April 22, 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.

– 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.

– Kansas junior Shaeffer Hall got the season off on the right foot by tossing the fifth individual no-hitter in team history on Feb. 20 against Air Force at the Service Academy Classic in Millington, Tenn. Hall allowed no runs on no hits over nine innings to record KU’s first individual no-no since 1980.

Senior catcher Buck Afenir wrapped up his most successful regular season to date with a bang against Kansas State. The senior catcher went 6-for-11 in the series, including a pair of homers in the two Jayhawk wins.

– 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 started all 27 Big 12 games for the Jayhawks, and hit safely in 18 of them. He hit better in conference games (.245) with six doubles and two homers against the Big 12.

– Freshman Zac Elgie doubled twice in Saturday’s triumph over K-State. The freshman recorded his eighth multi-hit game of the season, and improved his batting average to .308.

– Junior second baseman Robby Price made a handful of spectacular plays at second base during the Kansas State series, and continued to enjoy his best collegiate year in the field. Price’s .980 fielding percentage this season is a career high, while his five errors are the fewest he’s had in a season.

– Freshman infielder James Stanfield earned a start as the designated hitter Friday against Kansas State and collected a base hit against Wildcat ace A.J. Morris. Stanfield played in just 17 games, but collected hits in 11 of them.

– Junior shortstop David Narodowski went 3-for-3 in the series finale against Kansas State with a pair of doubles and three runs scored. The Jayhawk leadoff man did a terrific job of setting the table this year, reaching base at a .431 clip, including a .438 on-base percentage in Big 12 games.

– Sophomore Tony Thompson perhaps put a final exclamation point on his bid for Big 12 Player of the Year with a double, a homer and two RBIs Sunday against No. 11 Kansas State. Thompson leads the league in homers (18), RBIs (74), slugging percentage (.711) and is second in doubles (22) and fourth in batting average (.362).

– 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 celebrated Senior Day by going 5-for-5 with three RBIs and three runs scored. His five-hit day was just the ninth in Kansas history, but the third since Robby Price went 5-for-5 against Missouri on May 11, 2008.

– Freshman Jason Brunansky hit safely in all three games of the Kansas State series. Brunansky has come a long way since the beginning of the season, batting .333 over the team’s final 25 games.

– Sophomore Brian Heere drew a pair of walks Sunday to raise his team-leading on-base percentage to .463. Heere’s percentage is the second-best in the Big 12, while his 36 walks are tied for the eighth-best total in the league.

– Sophomore Casey Lytle went 2-for-5 in the series finale against Kansas State. It marked the second-year outfielder’s third multi-hit game in the last two weeks. In the month of May, Lytle hit .279 with a pair of homers and seven runs scored.

– 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 recorded two more strikeouts in Saturday’s win over Kansas State to run his season total to 50. The second-year reliever has recorded at least one strikeout in 19 of his 26 appearances.

– 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 16 innings.

– Junior Travis Blankenship has been KU’s specialist against left-handed hitters. The southpaw has held lefties to a .174 batting average this season.

– 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 took a tough-luck loss Friday at Kansas State. The junior lefty allowed four runs on five hits over 5 2/3 innings in Manhattan, despite blanking the Wildcats for the first five innings of the game. Hall is 3-3 with a 3.88 ERA against Top 25 teams this season.

– 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 the 7-4 win at Missouri on May 9. Smyth’s nine saves are the fifth-best single season total in team history, while his 27 career saves are second to just Don Czyz (31).

– Sophomore T.J. Walz recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts in Saturday’s 9-3 win over No. 11 Kansas State. The 12 K’s are the most by a Jayhawk pitcher since Mike Zagurski tallied a dozen strikeouts at Missouri on May 14, 2005.

Afenir Tabbed Big 12 Player of the Week

Kansas senior catcher Buck Afenir has been named Big 12 Player of the Week for the week of May 18. Afenir becomes the second Jayhawk position player to be honored on the conference’s weekly awards.

The senior catcher hit .545 in KU’s series victory over Kansas State, going 6-for-11 with two homers and seven RBIs. Afenir is the Jayhawks’ leading hitter in Big 12 play, posting a .370 average with seven doubles, five homers and 38 RBIs against conference foes.

KU Baseball Hands Out Team Awards

Following Sunday’s 17-7 win over Kansas State, the Kansas baseball team held a short ceremony to honor its team award winners for the 2009 season. Fourteen different Jayhawks brought home hardware, including Buck Afenir, Nick Faunce, Brian Heere, Paul Smyth and Tony Thompson who were honored with two awards each.

Highlighting the list was Afenir and Thompson, who shared Team MVP honors; Heere and sophomore Brett Bochy were named the team’s most improved players, while sophomore T.J. Walz earned the award for the Jayhawks’ most outstanding pitcher. Thompson earned the “Big Stick” award for the best power numbers, while Lee Ridenhour was named the top rookie.

Up Next

The Kansas baseball team will face top-seeded Texas Thursday, May 21 in the second round of the Phillps 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship at Bricktown Ballpark. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. KU is 0-1 all-time against the Longhorns in the Big 12 Championship.