Jayhawks Flock to Warm Weather, Play Houston Baptist
LAWRENCE, Kan. – The undefeated Kansas baseball team heads south to Grand Prairie, Texas, this weekend to play a four-game series against Houston Baptist at QuikTrip Park Feb. 28-March 2.
The Jayhawks and Huskies, originally scheduled to play in the Salty Iguana Classic in Lawrence, open the weekend with a single game Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. The two squads will then play a doubleheader on Saturday at noon, before closing out the set Sunday at 12 p.m.
All four games can be heard on Jayhawk Digital Passport through KUAthletics.com/Showcase with Sean Kellerman and Tom Hedrick calling the action.
- For just the second time in program history, Kansas has started the season 8-0, by sweeping a four-game series against BYU (Feb. 14-17), and winning all four of its games in the Snowbird Classic (Feb. 21-24).
- This is the best start to a season the Jayhawks have had under 12th-year head coach Ritch Price, as his previous best start came in 2005 when the squad went 6-0 taking six-straight from Hawaii-Hilo.
- During this 8-0 stretch, Kansas has outscored its opponents 76-38 with 35 two-out RBIs. The last time the squad was 8-0 was in 2002, and the team outscored its opponents 66-22.
- The KU offense ranks first in the Big 12 in average (.318), second in slugging percentage (.463), second in runs scored (76) and first in hits (90).
- The Jayhawks have the second-fewest strikeouts at the plate with 33, just one behind league leader TCU (32).
- Connor McKay‘s offensive production lands his name among the top five in the Big 12 in four categories including: RBIs (15 / 1st), home runs (3 / T-2nd), slugging percentage (.778 / 3rd) and total bases (21 / T-4th).
- Tommy Mirabelli is tied for first in the Big 12 in runs scored (12), tied for first in free passes (8) and tied for third in stolen bases (4).
SERIES HISTORY: In the 123 years of Kansas baseball, the Jayhawks and Huskies have only met twice, splitting a two-game set in 2012. With Wes Benjamin on the bump for KU, Houston Baptist won the first meeting, 7-4, off 11 hits and one Kansas error. However, the Jayhawks bounced back to hang on and win game two, 3-2, after a late rally in the bottom of the ninth scored a run.
SCOUTING REPORT: Houston Baptist enters the weekend with a 6-2 record after sweeping its season-opening series against Prairie View A&M (6-2, 12-5, 4-3) and defeating UTSA 9-7. The following weekend, the Huskies took two-of-three from Northeastern, before losing a mid-week contest against #18 Texas A&M, 5-1, this past Tuesday. In the loss to the Aggies, HBU gave up five runs off 10 hits and two errors, while only collecting four base hits.
Four Huskies are batting over .350, with junior catcher Samm Wiggins leading the charge with a .381 average. Junior infielder/pitcher Curtis Jones is coming off a big weekend for HBU as he threw a complete-game shutout against Northeastern in game one of a doubleheader. He went 4-for-7 at the plate in both games, scoring four runs in two games and extending his hitting streak to 15 games. Junior outfielder Zach Nehrir is leading the run production with a team-high eight RBIs, a .417 slugging percentage and the fewest strikeouts at the plate (2).
On the bump, Houston Baptist holds a team ERA of 3.08 while holding opponents to a .248 batting average. Right-handed pitchers Ryan Lower and Curtis Jones hold down the weekend rotation with a 1.64 and 1.76 ERA, respectively, as each are 1-0 on the season in two starts. Infielder and fellow righty Josh Martinez has made three appearances in reliefe, tossing six and two-thirds innings, more than any other pitcher in relief.
LAST TIME OUT: After sweeping BYU to start the 2014 season 4-0, the Jayhawks traveled to Port Charlotte, Fla., where they won another four-straight games against Northwestern (14-10 ), Milwaukee (9-8), Mississippi Valley State (11-1) and St. Bonaventure (9-4). KU outscored its opponents 43-23 on the weekend, with 18 two-out RBIs. In addition, Kansas posted a .361 batting average, compared to that of its opponents’ combined .261 average.
AROUND THE HORN:
- Senior centerfielder Tucker Tharp led all Jayhawks with a .462 average on the weekend, compiling six hits in 13 at bats, including three doubles, a homoe run, six RBIs and six runs scored for a .923 slugging percentage.
- Junior right fielder Connor McKay drove in eight runs during the four-game stretch over the weekend, including a one out grand slam in the fifth inning against Milwaukee, the first since 2012 when McKay hit a granny against Minnesota (March 10).
- In his first appearance on the mound as a Jayhawk, freshman RHP Stephen Villines pitched two and two thirds innings of relief, allowing one hit, one run and two walks to pick up his first career win.
- Freshman right-hander Jon Hander came on in the ninth against Milwaukee (Feb. 22) to close the door for his first career save at KU in his first collegiate appearance, allowing just one hit against four batters.
- Seven of KU’s nine starters collected at least one two-out RBI on the weekend, with Tucker Tharp leading all hitters with five.
- The come-from-behind win against Northwestern in extra innings marked the second win in bonus play this season and the fourth come-back win for the Jayhawks in 2014, as they also came from behind to beat BYU twice and Milwaukee.
- With two outs this season, the Jayhawks boast a .353 batting average and 35 RBIs, compared to a .157 average and two RBIs by their opponents.
- Kansas has six hitters with a .500 average or better with two outs, including Tucker Tharp (.500, 7-for-14, seven RBIs), Tommy Mirabelli (.500, 1-for-2, one RBI), Jacob Boylan (.500, 1-for-2, one RBI), Joven Afenir (.600, 3-for-5, three RBIs), Ka’iana Eldredge (.600, 6-for-10, four RBIs) and Blair Beck (.667, 2-for-3, two RBIs).
- KU extended its all-time record in the month of February to 130-95-1 (.575) after winning all four games of the Snowbird Classic.
KANSAS RUNS ON DUNCAN: Senior right-handed pitcher Frank Duncan pitched an absolute gem against Mississippi Valley State (Feb. 23), recording a career-high 14 strikeouts in seven and two-thirds innings pitched. He allowed just four hits and one earned run in his 92-pitch performance to earn Collegiate Baseball Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week and Big 12 Pitcher of the Week honors. His 14 strikeouts were the most by a pitcher in a single game since Mike Zagurski struck out 13 against Northern Colorado (Feb. 25, 2005). Duncan was the first Jayhawk to earn a national weekly honor since Shaeffer Hall earned the same honor (Feb. 24, 2009).
HAVE A DAY MCKAY: Junior right fielder Connor McKay filled up the box score with a career-high five RBIs against Milwaukee (Feb. 22), which included a sacrifice fly in the first inning and a grand slam in the fifth inning. That was the second granny of McKay’s career and the first for KU since McKay hit one in 2012 against Minnesota (March 10). He has now surpassed his home run total from last season (2) in just eight games on the year, as he hit two two-run bombs against BYU in the opening weekend of play. Eight of his 15 RBIs have come off of his home run production.
IF YOU’RE NOT FIRST, YOU’RE LAST: Kansas has scored first in six of its eight games on the season, en route to a perfect 8-0 record. In those six contests, the Jayhawks have won by a margin of 5.17 runs, averaging just two more hits a game than their opponents. In addition, KU has left an average of 6.5 runners on base in each of those games, compared to 8.5 left by its opponents.
WE GOT THIS: With senior closer Jordan Piche’ inactive after a 73-pitch performance the night before, freshman right-handed hurlers Stephen Villines and Jon Hander heard their names called for the first time to close out KU’s game against Milwaukee (Feb. 22). Villines entered the game in the sixth inning with Kansas trailing 7-6. He tossed two and two-thirds innings, giving up one hit and one run for his first career win, after the Jayhawks put up a three spot in the eighth inning. Hander came on in the ninth for his first career save and threw 15 pitches, allowing just one hit.
UP NEXT: If the weather cooperates, the Jayhawks will host their home opener Tuesday, March 4 at Hoglund Ballpark. First pitch for that contest against Creighton is scheduled for 3 p.m. Kansas will then pick up and hit the road again, this time traveling to California to play a three-game series against national perennial powerhouse Stanford, March 7-9. Friday’s game is slated for an 8 p.m. start, with Saturday beginning at 4 p.m. Sunday’s 3 p.m. game will close out the series. All times reflect CST.
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