⚾ Kansas Set to Open Big 12 Play at West Virginia
Morgantown, W.Va. – The Kansas Jayhawks (13-6) are set to open Big 12 Conference play this weekend with a three-game series at West Virginia. The Jayhawks have won seven straight games and 10 of their last 11.
A win in the series opener against the Mountaineers would give Kansas a 14-6 start through 20 games, which would be the best 20-game start for the Jayhawks since also starting 14-6 in 2014. That team finished 35-26 and was selected as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas has been led by its pitching so far this season. The Jayhawks rank third in the Big 12 in ERA at 3.34 and are issuing the fewest walks per nine innings in the conference at 3.07. Teams are batting just .230 against the Jayhawks so far this season. In addition, Kansas pitchers have surrendered just five home runs this season, which leads the Big 12 by four.
The Jayhawks topped Lafayette in a midweek contest on Tuesday, 20-6. It marked the first time since 2017 that Kansas had scored 20 or more runs in a game. The Wednesday game between the two teams was washed out due to rain.
Prior to the win over Lafayette, the Jayhawks swept Creighton at home in a four-game set. In that series, the Jayhawks hit .320 as a team, scoring 36 runs in four games and picking up 14 extra-base hits on the weekend. The pitching staff, meanwhile, collected a 2.85 ERA in the series, holding Bluejay hitters to a .224 average over the four-game sweep. Kansas pitchers struck out 30 and walked just 12.
In the series versus the Blue Jays, the left side of the infield — shortstop Maui Ahuna and third baseman Skyler Messinger — stood out. The duo combined to go 17-for-31 with three doubles, one home run, 10 RBI, 10 runs scored, eight walks and three stolen bases. The two struck out only twice in 40 total plate appearances.
Dylan Ditzenberger also had a series to remember, going 8-for-19 with three doubles and a team-best eight RBI.
Turning the page forward, it’s all about Big 12 Conference play now for Kansas, who will turn to its experienced starting rotation to get league play going.
– Friday: RHP Ryan Cyr (3-1, 3.94 ERA, 5 starts)
– Saturday: RHP Cole Larsen (3-1, 0.79 ERA, 5 appearances)
– Sunday: LHP Eli Davis (3-1, 2.90 ERA, 5 starts)
True freshman shortstop Maui Ahuna earned Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors following the four-game series against Creighton. Ahuna went 9-for-16 in the four-game series with three runs scored, three RBI, a double, a stolen base and four walks.
The Jayhawks have now earned that honor in back-to-back weeks after pitcher Cole Larsen shared the award the previous week.
Ahuna’s standout weekend against Creighton was a continuation of a stellar debut season in the Crimson and Blue. Ahuna is second on the team with a .352 batting average. He has started all 17 games he has appeared in and is tied for the team lead in walks with 14. He leads the team with an on-base percentage of .478.
COLE IN CONTROL
Right-handed pitcher Cole Larsen’s breakout season continued this past weekend. Larsen tossed eight innings in the second game of the series against Creighton and allowed one earned run and struck out a career-high 10.
Larsen has now allowed just three earned runs in 34 innings this season and is 3-1 with a 0.79 ERA. He has allowed just one earned run over his last 17 innings, and has gone at least six innings in each of his four starts.
He logged back-to-back nine strikeout performances to start the season. Larsen appeared in four innings in relief against South Dakota State, tying his career best in strikeouts. He tallied the same feat in six innings against FGCU in the series finale Feb. 28.
Larsen isn’t the only Jayhawk off to a strong start on the mound. He and fellow right-handed starter Ryan Cyr rank second and fourth in the Big 12 respectively in strikeouts with 42 and 36. The duo rank in the top 60 nationally in strikeouts with Larsen ranked 16th in the country and Cyr ranked 57th.
Both Cyr and Larsen have totaled double-digit strikeout games this season. Cyr struck out 11 in the season opener against South Dakota State, while Larsen punched out 10 last weekend against Creighton.
The two righties have an eye-popping 78 to 13 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the season, helping the Jayhawks have the second best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the Big 12.
JONAH ON THE SPOT
Closer Jonah Ulane picked up his fourth save of the season in the series finale against Creighton. His four saves rank first in the Big 12 and 14th nationally. Ulane has allowed two earned runs over nine innings this year with 10 strikeouts. Hitters are batting just .133 against him. He has appeared in a team-high seven games this season.
Ulane has held the opponents scoreless in six of his seven appearances. His only blemish came against Omaha, when he gave up two runs, but still earned the save.
NOLAN IS ROLLIN’
Nolan Metcalf finished 6-for-11 with six RBI, two home runs and a walk to be named Big 12 Player of the Week for the opening series of the year (2/19-2/21) against South Dakota State. The hot start has continued for Metcalf, who enters this weekend with 18 RBI, which is tied for the team lead.. He is the only player on the team to have started all 19 games so far. He also leads the team in home runs, and is second in hits with 22.
Metcalf is the first Jayhawk to be named Big 12 Player of the Week since Jaxx Groshans claimed the honor in the final week of voting during the 2019 season.
The Jayhawks rank in the top three of the Big 12 in sacrifice bunts (1st | 19), sacrifice flies (1st | 13), earned run average (3rd | 3.34) strikeout-to-walk ratio (2nd | 2.72) and WHIP (3rd | 1.23)
Kansas ranks in the top-60 in four NCAA categories:
– Sacrifice Bunts (5th | 18)
– Sacrifice Flies (7th | 13)
– Strikeout-to-walk ratio (56th | 2.72)
– Earned Run Average (30th | 3.34)
– Walks Allowed Per Nine Innings (35th | 3.23)
– WHIP (37th | 1.23)
Ryan Cyr is 14th in the NCAA in strikeout-to-walk ratio (12.00), and is 57th in strikeouts (36). Cyr is 32nd in the NCAA and tied for third in the Big 12 for wins (3), along with fellow starters Eli Davis and Cole Larsen.
Cole Larsen is 16th in the NCAA and second in the Big 12 in strikeouts (42). Larsen is second in the Big 12 in ERA (0.79) and first in the NCAA and Big 12 for complete games (2).
Jonah Ulane is 14th in the NCAA and first in the Big 12 in saves (4).
ABOUT WEST VIRGINIA
The Mountaineers enter Big 12 play with an 8-8 record on the season and a 4-4 mark at home. West Virginia enters the series against Kansas with a .240 team batting average and a staff ERA of 5.39.
The Mountaineers dropped two of three at home last weekend to 2016 National Champion, Coastal Carolina. West Virginia then dropped a 7-1 decision to Marshall on Tuesday night.
The squad will go with three left-handed starters this weekend against the Jayhawks. Jackson Wolf, who leads the team in innings and strikeouts, will toe the rubber in the series opener Friday night. Fellow lefties Adam Tulloch and Ben Hampton will follow.
• Mikey Kluska leads the offensive attack for West Virginia. He’s batting .339 and has started all 16 games for the Mountaineers. The West Virginia offense has hit 18 home runs in just 16 games, while the Kansas pitching staff has surrendered a league-low five home runs in 19 games.
• Here’s a closer look at the starters for the weekend for West Virginia.
– Friday: LHP Jackson Wolf (1-2, 2.61 ERA, 4 starts)
– Saturday: LHP Adam Tulloch (0-0, 6.00 ERA, 3 starts)
– Saturday: LHP Ben Hampton (2-0, 1.04 ERA, 4 appearances)