Kansas Baseball Faces Top-Seeded Texas Thursday

May 20, 2009

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Kansas at Big 12 Championship

After a tough 5-4 defeat in the first day of the Big 12 Baseball Championship, the Kansas baseball team looks to bounce back against top-seeded Texas, Thursday at 3 p.m. at Bricktown Ballpark.KU will complete pool play Saturday with a 9 a.m. game against eighth-seeded Baylor, who defeated Texas 14-9 on Wednesday.

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

Series History

This will be the second meeting between Kansas and Texas at the conference tournament, with UT winning a 2005 meeting, 9-0. KU is 14-33 all-time against the Longhorns, but have won four straight in the series, including a three-game series sweep in Lawrence, March 20-22. Kansas head coach Ritch Price is 8-14 against UT in his career with the Jayhawks.

About the Jayhawks

Kansas returns to the Big 12 Championship for the first time since winning the tournament in 2006. The Jayhawks are 4-5 all-time in Big 12 Championship play, and 11-23 in conference tournaments (includes Big Eight Tournament play).

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.

Second team All-Big 12 selection Tony Thompson paces the Kansas offense with a .372 batting average, and leads the conference in doubles (24), homers (18), RBIs (74) and slugging percentage (.722).

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 Longhorns

Texas is making its 11th-straight appearance in the Big 12 Championship. The defending tournament champions also won the Big 12’s regular season title this season with a 17-9-1 record.

Junior first baseman Brandon Belt leads the Longhorns with a .337 batting average, with a team-high 15 doubles and seven home runs. Three other Texas regulars are batting above .300: Michael Torres (.310), Brandon Loy (.308) and Travis Tucker (.302). UT is hitting .288 as a team and averages 5.9 runs per game.

On the mound, the Jayhawks will face sophomore righty Chance Ruffin. KU defeated Ruffin on March 20, scoring five runs on eight hits against the righty, who went 7 2/3 innings in the game. This season, Ruffin posted an 8-2 record with a 2.96 ERA in 13 starts. He struck out 85 in 91 1/3 innings, while holding opponents to a .226 batting average. Senior Austin Wood was UT’s ace out of the bullpen, saving 13 games and posting a 5-1 record with an ERA below 2.50.

Last Time Out

Sophomore Tony Thompson had four hits, including a pair of doubles, but it was not enough. Rob Vaughn’s RBI double in the bottom of the eighth inning plated the winning run as fourth-seeded Kansas State rallied from a pair of one-run deficits to knock off fifth-seeded Kansas, 5-4, in the first day of the Big 12 Baseball Championship Wednesday at Bricktown Ballpark.

Tony, Tony, Tony

Sophomore Tony Thompson grew his legacy in Jayhawk history even more Wednesday, collecting a KU postseason record four hits against Kansas State. Thompson’s first four-hit game of the season raised his season average to .372, while his two doubles Wednesday gave him the conference lead with 24. He also became the third different Jayhawk in as many games to collect at least four hits in a game.

The Kansas sophomore is enjoying a career season, ranking in school’s top five in five different single-season categories: doubles (tied for second, 24), homers (tied for first, 18), RBIs (second, 74), total bases (tied for first, 161) and slugging percentage (fourth, .722).

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

The Price is Right

Junior Robby Price has hit his stride at the end of the season. The third-year shortstop is batting .354 over his last 20 games, including six doubles, a triple and three homers. He has also struck out just twice during the time.

Price has always done the little things well, leading the team in sacrifices, walks and fielding percentage among infielders. But he seems to be moving to the elite level of second basemen in the country. He ranks in the top 10 in the Big 12 in walks (36) and on-base percentage (.460).

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 is 4-5 in Big 12 Championship play all-time, winning the title in 2006.

– 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 .306 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 entered Wednesday’s conference tournament game with Kansas State as a pinch hitter, and collected two singles, including a two-run bast hit in the seventh to give KU the lead. Stanfield is batting .324 this year against right-handed pitching.

– Junior shortstop David Narodowski went 3-for-3 in the regular season 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 recorded a career high four hits in Wednesday’s conference tournament game with Kansas State. In KU’s last three games, at least one Jayhawk has four hits (Buck Afenir 4-for-5 on Saturday, Nick Faunce 5-for-5 Sunday, Tony Thompson, 4-for-5 Wednesday).

– 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 made his team-high 35th appearance in Wednesday’s game, and struck out Jordan Cruz to end the seventh inning. Blankenship has held left-handed hitters to a .171 batting average this year.

– 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 again kept the Kansas State bats quiet for five innings, but could not escape the sixth. In his two starts against the Wildcats he has allowed seven runs on six hits in the sixth inning, and no runs on five hits in the first five frames.

– 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.

Up Next

Kansas will wrap up pool play in the Big 12 Championship on Saturday with a 9 a.m. game against eighth-seeded Baylor at Bricktown Ballpark. This will mark the second all-time meeting in conference tournament play between the Bears and the Jayhawks.