Jayhawks Open Conference Play at No. 27 Baylor This Weekend
March 22, 2012
LEADING OFF: Kansas opens Big 12 play this weekend when the Jayhawks travel to Waco, Texas to battle the 27th-ranked Baylor Bears at Baylor Ballpark. The Jayhawks and Bears will meet Friday (3:05 p.m.) and Saturday (4:05 p.m.), before the series finale Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
ON THE AIR: Audio for the weekend's games is available free of charge on AT&T Jayhawk All-Access. A link to the audio can be found at kuathletics.com. Baylor offers a video feed of Saturday and Sunday's games for a subscription fee on its website: baylorbears.com.
SERIES HISTORIES: Kansas and Baylor have met 45 times on the baseball diamond dating back to 1957. The Bears lead the series 39-6, including 21-3 in Waco. KU won its first series at Baylor Ballpark in 2010 and has won the last two regular season series against the Bears.
ABOUT KANSAS: Kansas has won back-to-back one-run games to get back to .500 on the season at 10-10. The Jayhawks have been up-and-down this year, but are is 3-3 in true road games and 8-9 in games away from Hoglund Ballpark.
KU's offense is averaging 4.8 runs per game and batting .264 as a team, which ranks eighth in the Big 12. Senior DH Chris Manship leads the team with a .341 batting average and has a .591 slugging percentage with six RBIs. KU's pitching staff ranks fourth in the conference with a 3.62 ERA. Redshirt-junior RHP Thomas Taylor has been KU's top starting pitcher, going 2-2 with a 2.62 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings.
SCOUTING THE BEARS: Baylor enters the weekend series having won four-straight and six of its last seven. The Bears are ranked 27th in the latest Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll and are receiving votes in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers' Association and USA Today Coaches' polls. BU is 12-3 at home this season.
Baylor's offense averages 5.5 runs per game and is batting .291, which ranks fourth in the Big 12. Sophomore IF Lawton Langford leads the team with a .394 batting average with 15 runs scored and a .474 on-base percentage. Junior Logan Vick leads the team with a 11 doubles and a .526 slugging percentage with 12 RBIs and 14 runs scored.
Baylor's pitching staff has been solid as well, posting a 3.43 team ERA, which ranks fourth in the league. Senior RHP Trent Blank is the ace of the staff with a 5-0 record and a 2.06 ERA, which ranks third in the Big 12 among qualifying pitchers. Blank has held opponents to a .188 batting average this season. Sophomore RHP Dillon Newman leads the Bears with two saves on the season and has 17 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings.
BU head coach Steve Smith is in his 18th season with the Bears and has a career record of 634-422-1 at the school. Smith has led Baylor to 12 NCAA Regional appearances, three NCAA Super Regional appearances and one College World Series (2005).
LAST TIME OUT: Sophomore Ka'iana Eldredge went 5-for-7 and drove in the winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning with an infield single as Kansas rallied from a late deficit to beat Southern Utah, 11-10 in extra innings Wednesday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.
FIVE TIMES THE FUN: Sophomore Ka'iana Eldredge collected a career-high five hits Wednesday to help the Jayhawks knock off Southern Utah in extra innings. Eldredge became the first Jayhawk to collect five hits in a game since Nick Faunce went 5-for-5 against Kansas State on May 17, 2009. Eldredge's final two base hits proved to be important as his two-out single in the ninth inning plated the tying run, while his fifth hit scored the game-winning run in KU's first walk-off win of the year.
Ironically, Eldredge's career day came at the expense of his father's team, Southern Utah head coach David Eldredge. Last season, against SUU, Ka'iana Eldredge collected his first collegiate base hit.
THOU SHALL NOT STEAL: Base runners' worst nightmare this season has been senior C James Stanfield. Heading into the sixth weekend of the season, Stanfield has thrown out exactly 50 percent of all would-be base stealers (8-for-16), which leads the Big 12 among catchers that have started at least 10 games. Stanfield's defensive skills have been on display in recently as he has thrown out base runners in five of the last seven stolen base attempts against him.
QUALITY STARTERS: KU's trio of starting pitchers has been a huge part of the Jayhawks' success in the early part of the season. The group of junior RHP Thomas Taylor, sophomore RHP Frank Duncan and freshman LHP Wes Benjamin have a joint 3.09 ERA (35 ER in 102 IP) and have combined for nine quality starts in their 15 games started this season.
Duncan leads the team with three wins and 30 strikeouts, while Taylor (2.62 ERA, seventh) and Benjamin (3.27 ERA, 14th) both rank in the top 15 in the Big 12 in ERA. KU's weekend starters' ERA is fourth-best among the conference's rotations, ranking just behind Baylor's starters.
Big 12 ERA Leaders by Weekend Starters
1. Oklahoma State............... 2.28
2. Texas A&M...................... 2.43
3. Baylor............................ 3.14
4. Kansas......................... 3.18
5. Texas............................. 3.72
6. Texas Tech..................... 3.99
7. Missouri.......................... 4.01
8. Oklahoma....................... 4.53
9. Kansas State................... 5.33
Kansas opens Big 12 play this weekend at Baylor. The Jayhawks have won their conference-opening series in each of the last three seasons, sweeping Texas in 2009 and taking 2-of-3 at Baylor in 2010 and against Oklahoma State last year.
KU's 11-10 win over Southern Utah on Wednesday marked the team's fourth victory this season in a game that started before noon. The Jayhawks have also defeated Bowling Green (Feb. 18), Mississippi Valley State (Feb. 26) and Houston Baptist (March 18) in games that began before 12 p.m. local time.
The Jayhawks' 11-10 victory Wednesday marked KU's first walk-off victory since April 2, 2011 when a bases loaded walk in the 10th inning gave KU a 4-3 win over then-No. 19 Baylor.
KU collected 19 hits in Wednesday's win, which represented the most by the team since recording 20 hits at Oklahoma State on April 30, 2010.
The Jayhawks entered the week ranked sixth in the country in fielding percentage, but committed a season-high three errors in their midweek win over Southern Utah.
The Jayhawks' 3-2 win over Houston Baptist on March 18 marked the team's first victory in the state of Texas in 13 tries. KU had lost 12-straight games in the Lone Star State dating back to a 4-3 extra innings win at TCU on Feb. 20, 2011.
Kansas skipper Ritch Price coached his 1,000th game at the Division I level on March 6 against North Dakota. Price has a .523 winning percentage (526 wins, three ties) in 17-plus seasons at Cal Poly and Kansas.
The Jayhawks have outhit 14 of their 20 opponents this season. KU has a 11-3 record when it collects more base hits than its opponent.
KU scored a season-high 10 runs in the first inning of a game against Mississippi Valley State on Feb. 26. It was the most runs scored in a single frame by a Jayhawk team since an 11-run inning against Tabor in 2007.
Of the Jayhawks' 11 home runs this season, eight have been hit by freshmen. KU's freshman class has outhomered four entire teams in the Big 12.
As a team, the Jayhawks are batting .414 (12-for-29) with the bases loaded this season, which includes a pair of grand slams.
As a team, KU's pitchers have allowed just 2.82 walks per game, which ranks third in the Big 12 behind only Texas A&M (2.55) and Texas Tech (2.64).
Kansas ranked in the top 100 in several team categories in games through March 18. KU was 80th in triples (five), 67th in home runs (11), 87th in sacrifice bunts (15), 70th in ERA (3.43), 60th in hits per nine innings (8.14), 37th in walks per nine innings (2.82) and sixth in fielding percentage (.982).
KU also had a handful of individuals who were among the top 100 nationally in different categories. Senior IF Chris Manship is 16th in the country in triples (three), freshman OF Connor McKay is 75th in homers (four), junior SS Kevin Kuntz is 99th in walks (14) in offensive categories. Sophomore RHP Frank Duncan is 75th in wins (three) and 95th in strikeouts (30), while junior RHP Tanner Poppe is 70th in saves (three), freshman LHP Wes Benjamin is 83rd in the country in walks per nine innings (1.36). All three of KU's weekend starters are tied for 16th in Division I with five starts a piece.
KU's outfielders have recorded nine assists this season after collecting just 13 all of last season. Freshman Connor McKay and sophomore Tucker Tharp are tied for the team lead with three each, while senior Jason Brunansky, freshman Dakota Smith and freshman Michael Suiter have also thrown a baserunner out from the outfield.
Senior C James Stanfield collected his third hit against left-handed pitching in the ninth inning of the March 15 loss to Indiana State. Stanfield is 3-for-8 against southpaws this season after going 5-for-22 (.227) against lefties in 2011.
Junior C Alex DeLeon collected two more RBIs with two outs in Wednesday's win over Southern Utah. DeLeon leads the team with seven of his 12 RBIs coming with two outs in the inning.
Redshirt-junior 1B Jake Marasco collected two more hits Wednesday to give him a .348 batting average in the month of March (16-for-46) this year. Marasco is a career .355 hitter (54-for-152) in March games.
Sophomore 2B Ka'iana Eldredge has enjoyed hitting at Hoglund Ballpark this year, going 7-for-13 (.538) in KU's three home games.
Junior SS Kevin Kuntz has reached base in 18 of his 20 starts this season and ranks fifth in the conference with 15 walks in 93 plate appearances.
After a slow start, junior IF Jordan Dreiling has started to turn things around. Dreiling snapped out of a 1-for-17 slump with two hits against Stony Brook on March 9 and is 7-for-17 with three multi-hit games in his last four starts.
Senior IF Chris Manship has become a complete hitter this season. In previous years, Manship was very pull-happy, but has six of his 15 base hits have been to the opposite field, while four more have been to center field.
Senior 3B Zac Elgie is second on the team with 12 RBIs and is batting .381 (8-for-21) with runners in scoring position.
Freshman OF Connor McKay recorded his team-leading fourth multi-RBI game on Wednesday and took over the KU lead with 13 RBIs this season.
Freshman OF Michael Suiter has done a tremendous job setting the table. Suiter has led off an inning 12 times this season and has reached base in eight of those opportunities (.667).
Sophomore OF Tucker Tharp is also heating up, going 3-for-9 with three walks in his last three starts. Tharp collected two hits against Notre Dame on March 16 to snap a 1-for-18 slump.
Freshman LHP Wes Benjamin has pitched well everywhere but San Antonio. In his two starts at Wolff Stadium this year, Benjamin's ERA is 8.44, allowing 10 runs in 10 2/3 innings. In his three starts in other ballparks, Benjamin has an 0.81 ERA with two runs allowed in 22 1/3 innings.
Sophomore RHP Frank Duncan has been one of the team's best at retiring the leadoff man. Duncan has started 35 innings this year and allowed the first man up to reach just six times (.171).
Senior RHP Jordan Jakubov allowed his first base hit to a left-handed hitter in the Indiana State game on March 15. Lefties are just 2-for-21 against him (.095) this season.
Freshman RHP Robert Kahana has been much more effective pitching out of the windup this year. Kahana is holding teams to a .174 batting average (8-for-46) with the bases empty, while teams are batting .303 (10-for-33) against him with men on base.
Junior RHP Tanner Poppe recorded his third save of the season on Sunday and is now 3-for-4 in save opportunities.
Junior RHP Thomas Taylor has induced a team-high five double plays, including another one against Houston Baptist Sunday.
Kansas has one Texas native on its roster, Taylor Hart, who hails from Jasper, Texas.
Baylor IF Nate Goodwin is from Overland Park, Kan., and attended Rockhurst High School. KU has three Overland Park natives on its roster - Kevin Kuntz, Conner Murray and Thomas Taylor - but none of them graduated from Rockhurst.
KU LHP Wes Benjamin (St. Charles) and Baylor junior IF Steve DalPorto (LaGrange) grew up roughly 30 miles apart in suburban Chicago, Ill.
Kansas IF Chris Manship (Cave Creek) and Baylor P/OF Michael Howard (Prescott) both grew up north of the Phoenix, Ariz. metro area.
Kansas assistant coach Ritchie Price played at KU from 2003-06, while Baylor volunteer assistant Zach Dillon was the Bears' catcher during the same four seasons. Both players were selected all-conference in 2006.
BACKDRAFT: KU's 2012 roster features nine players who were drafted by Major League organzations out of high school, but decided to become Jayhawks. Senior IF Zac Elgie (Oakland) was selected in the 2008 Amateur Draft. Juniors IF Kevin Kuntz (Kansas City), LHP Jordan Luvisi (Arizona), RHP Tanner Poppe (Kansas City) were all selected in the 2009 draft. Sophomore IF Ka'iana Eldredge (Cincinnati) was drafted in 2010, while freshmen LHP Wes Benjamin (New York Yankees), RHP Robert Kahana (Colorado), OF Connor McKay (Colorado) and OF Michael Suiter (Cincinnati) were selected in last year's draft. Poppe was also drafted last season by the Tampa Bay Rays.
300 GAME: Head coach Ritch Price reached a milestone in the Jayhawks' season-opening win over Middle Tennessee. The veteran skipper earned his 300th victory at Kansas, becoming the second KU head coach to reach the 300-win plateau. Former Kansas coach Floyd Temple is the only other head man to reach 300 victories at the school, amassing 438 wins from 1954-81.
Most Wins in Kansas History
1. Floyd Temple (1954-81)...... 438
2. Ritch Price (2003-present) 309
3. Dave Bingham (1988-95).... 249
4. Bobby Randall (1996-2002). 166
5. Marty Patton (1982-87)...... 122
UP NEXT: Kansas wraps up a four-game road swing with a non-conference game at Missouri State on Tuesday, March 27 at 6:30 p.m. KU will then return home for its first Big 12 series at Hoglund Ballpark against Texas Tech March 30-April 2.