Kansas Heads to Arizona for Big 12/Pac-12 Challenge

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 LAWRENCE, Kan. – The Kansas baseball team heads to warmer weather as the Jayhawks trek to Surprise, Arizona, for the second-annual Big 12/Pac-12 Challenge at Surprise Stadium, Feb. 26-29.
Kansas (2-1) heads to the spring training home of the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers to take on Pac-12 foes Utah (1-3) and No. 5 Oregon State (3-1). KU finished 2-2 in the challenge last year, defeating Washington and the Utes before falling to Washington State and the Beavers. First pitch Friday against Utah is slated for 6 p.m.


  • Kansas enters the weekend with an all-time record of 1,837-1,750-17.
  • Head coach Ritch Price is in his 22nd season as a Division I head coach with a record of 633-597-3 (.514).
  • Price is in his 14th year at Kansas with a record of 417-368-2 (.530), and is just 24 wins from becoming KU’s all-time winningest coach (Floyd Temple, 438).
  • Since 2003, the Jayhawks are 13-9 in games played in the state of Arizona and 1-5 inside Surprise Stadium.
  • In 2015, Kansas finished the Big 12/Pac-12 Challenge with a record of 2-2, defeating Washington and Utah before falling to Washington State and Oregon State.

The Jayhawks head back to Arizona for the second annual Big 12/Pac-12 Challenge featuring Utah and Oregon State. Kansas went 2-2 in last year’s rendition beating Utah, 6-3, before falling to Oregon State, 15-5. KU has played the Utes seven times, all since 2013, and trails the all-time series 5-2. The two wins against Utah came in 2015 – at the Big 12/Pac-12 Challenge and in KU’s home opener (March 6). On the other hand, the Jayhawks have met Oregon State just two times. The first time KU and the Beavers faced off was in the 2006 Corvallis Regional where Kansas fell, 11-3. The only other time the two teams played one another was last season in Arizona where OSU won a decisive matchup, 15-5.

The Jayhawks and Utes will see former opponents and even former teammates this weekend when they suit up in the Big 12/Pac-12 Challenge in Surprise, Arizona. Sophomore lefty Ryan Jackson played against Utah infielder Jake Portaro in high school in Nevada. Jackson also faced the Utes’ lefty Dylan Drachler during his high school career. Sophomore right-hander Brandon Johnson also hails from Nevada, in that of Las Vegas. On the West Coast, senior lefty Ben Krauth played for the same Northgate team for one season in Walnut Creek, California, as Utah righty Spencer Johnson. Sophomore pitcher Casey Douglas and Utes’ infielder Hunter Simmons played for the same high school, Saint Francis, in Los Altos, California.

Bill Kinneberg enters his 12th season at the helm of the Utes and his 20th season as a skipper. In his first stint as head coach at Utah in 1996, Kinneberg led his team to a 30-22 record, good for a third-place tie in the Western Athletic Conference’s North Division. Kinneberg returned to the program in 2004 after he served as a minor league pitching coach in the Chicago White Sox’s professional organization. Since returning, Kinneberg led Utah back to the NCAA Tournament in 2009 – the first time since 1960. The Utes won their first Mountain West Conference tournament in the same season. Kinneberg has also found success on the national scene. He served as the head coach of the US National Team that won a silver medal at the FISU World University Championships in Japan in 2010. His head coaching experience began in 1985 when he took over the reins at UTEP after spending four seasons as an assistant on their staff.

Utah enters the Big 12/Pac-12 Challenge with an overall record of 1-3 after opening up the first weekend of the 2016 season at Surprise Stadium in Arizona. The Utes averaged 4.25 runs per game in those four contests, including 11 scored against Ball State (Feb. 20), their lone win of the season. Offensively, junior outfielder Josh Rose leads the squad with a .357 batting average (5-for-14), including a double, .429 slugging percentage and a .471 on-base percentage. Junior infielder Dallas Carroll isn’t far off pace with a .286 average, including two RBIs and a .412 on-base percentage. Utah struggles on the hill with a team 6.09 ERA through the first four games of the season. Opponents averaged 7.5 runs per game during opening weekend and batted .331 with 11 doubles, two triples, two home runs and a .394 on-base percentage. The Jayhawks will face sophomore righty Jayson Rose in game one against Utah. Rose (0-1) has made one start thus far and pitched six innings, giving up five runs off nine hits and a walk.

Junior catcher Michael Tinsley will suit up against former high school rival Beavers’ outfielder Trevor Larnach. Tinsley played for Serra in San Mateo, California, while Larnach played for College Park out of Pleasant Hill. Freshman righty Zack Leban will get the opportunity to play against a school from his region of the United States as he hails from the Northwestern part of the country in that of Bellevue, Washington.

Legendary coach Pat Casey has found plenty of success as the leader of the Oregon State Beavers in his 20-year tenure with the squad. His 2015 team continued on the most productive stretch in OSU history as it made the program record seventh-consecutive postseason appearance. In 2013, the Beavers won a school record 52 games as they advanced to their fourth College World Series under Casey. Casey was named the 2011 Pac-10 Conference Coach of the Year for the third time. He became just the fifth coach is NCAA Division I history to win back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007. Casey’s list of accolades includes being named the Pac-10 Conference Coach of the Year in 2005 and 2006, the National Coach of the Year by Collegiate Baseball, Baseball America and the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA).

Oregon State enters the weekend with a No. 5 national ranking after starting the 2016 campaign with a 3-1 record that includes wins over Ball State, Minnesota and Utah, and a loss against Utah Valley. The Beavers return 19 letterwinners from a team that finished 39-18-1 in 2015 and second in the Pac-12 (19-10-1). Nine of 10 starters return to the lineup including infielder Trever Morrison. Through the first four games, Morrison is batting .563 (9-for-16) with a double and a RBI. Outfielder Jack Anderson leads the squad with a .583 average (7-for-12) with two RBIs, five runs scored and a .643 on-base percentage. As a team, Oregon State is batting .373 and averages 8.5 runs per game. Kansas will face righty Travis Eckert on Saturday (Feb. 27) and lefty Luke Heimlich on Sunday (Feb. 28). Eckert has made one start and pitched six innings, giving up six runs off 12 hits for a 9.00 ERA. Heimlich also made one start, earning the win after striking out seven batters in six and 1/3 innings for a 2.84 ERA. As a staff, OSU has a team ERA of 6.50 and has given up an average of 6.75 runs per contest. Opponents are hitting .281 against the Beavers including five doubles, three triples and a home run.

Junior centerfielder Joven Afenir continues to show his athleticism in the outfield after he flashed some major leather Monday (Feb. 22) against Northern Colorado. Full-out running, Afenir ran down a hard-hit ball in the gap and laid out only to make the diving snag. Not only did he save a run, but the California native earned his second #SCtop10 honor in as many years coming in at No. 5, Tuesday morning (Feb. 23). His defense wasn’t the only thing to shine that game as he led the Jayhawks at the plate with a 3-for-4 performance with a career-high two doubles, RBI and a run scored. Afenir’s last appearance on “SportsCenter” Top-10 Plays came on Friday, March 6 after another diving catch against Utah.  

A corps that struggled throughout the course of the 2015 season, the Kansas bullpen made a statement early on in 2016 to be one of the strengths to this team. Through the first three games, KU relievers have thrown 13 innings, given up just one unearned run off five hits and struck out 15 batters for a 0.00 ERA. The back end of the bullpen is starting to shape up nicely with Zack Leban, Sam Gilbert and closer Stephen Villines set for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Leban has made two appearances and thrown three innings, striking out two, while Gilbert has struck out five batters in two and 1/3 innings. Villines has earned a win and a save in just two appearances and has allowed one hit.

Junior closer Stephen Villines picked up his first win of the season in the home opener and his first save of the season to help complete the two-game sweep over Northern Colorado (2/23). Villines now has 22 career saves and is third all-time in KU history behind Paul Smyth (27) and Don Czyz (31). He is also the active Big 12 career leader in saves with almost 16 more saves than anyone else in the conference. The all-time career Big 12 record for saves is 41, set by Huston Street from 2002-04. To crack the top-10 list in the conference, Villines would need to pick up five more saves to get to 27. 

Kansas returns home Thursday, March 3, for the first of a three-game series against BYU at Hoglund Ballpark. All three games of the series can be seen on ESPN3, while fans can also listen live on the Jayhawk Radio Network Via KUAthletics.com/Radio.
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