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Baseball: KU vs. North Dakota State

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The Jayhawks and the Bison will play a three game series from Monday through Wednesday (weather permitting).  All games at Hoglund Park, first pitch at 3:00PM.  KU has won all six previous games in the series.

KU (7-1) 2006 RPI #33 full 2007 stats here
vs.
North Dakota State (0-0) 2006 RPI #275 Last season's team stats here

Likely Pitching Match-ups
Mon - Zach Ashwood (1-0, 2.53 ERA) vs. Jake Laber (3-10, 6.68 ERA in 2006)

Tues - Nick Czyz (1-0, 1.93 ERA) vs. Jeff Hille (6-4, 4.65 ERA in 2005/2006 at Northern Iowa)

Wed - Andy Marks (2-0, 0.73 ERA) vs. Matt Mossey (1-6, 7.46 ERA in 2006)

North Dakota State in a nutshell
The Bison are rebuilding in 2007 after loosing two of their three best hitters and seven of their ten pitchers from last year's squad.  That might not seem such a bad situation if one takes into account that in 2006 NDS fielded one of the least competitive programs in NCAA Div-I baseball, finishing with an RPI of 275 out of 293 programs.

NDS Pitching in 2006 was a long nightmare.  The staff ERA was 7.35 with only one pitcher able to keep his ERA under 6.00 for the year (Jay Mitchell, 5.97).  Most of this staff is gone.  Jake Laber, their #1 starter, is one of the few returnees.  Laber pitched 90.1 Innings last year, and gave up a lot of hits and walks (Whip 1.78), but did manage to punch out a fair number of opposing batters (7.7 K/9).  He looks like a hard thrower who goes about five or six innings and leaves trailing 4-2.  Last year KU tagged him with seven runs in 4.2 innings.  Hille, a transfer from Northern Iowa, will be the #2 pitcher.  Hille may prove the most difficult challenge of the weekend, but he only pitched in three games last year so he may well be rusty.  Matt Mossey is the #3 starter.  He gives up a lot of hits (12.0 per 9), a lot of walks (5.5 per 9) and doesn't strikeout many opponents (2.62 per 9).  While Mossey only accumulated 44.2 Innings in his 9 games last year (8 starts) amazingly he went the distance twice. Had it reached the point where the bullpen was just refusing to answer the phone?

NDS hitting was a bit better than it's pitching in 2006.  As a team they hit .258/.343/.354 and scored an average of 4.5 runs per game.  The Bison return several experienced position players.

Matt Mossey - 200 at bats, .320/.380/.430, 3 HR, 28 RBI, 5 SB.
Luke Otto - 167 at bats, .293/.369/.401, 3 HR, 20 RBI, 4 SB.
Gavin Hofer - 136 at bats, .265/.333/.309, 18 RBI.
Ryan Langlais - 186 at bats, .263/.371/.355, 3 HR, 23 RBI.
Greg Plecki - 187 at bats, .235/.336/.283, 2 HR, 15 RBI.
Matt Watson - 119 at bats, .176/.238/.227, 1 HR, 7 RBI.

So, unless the team has some exciting newcomers, they are predominately a patient singles hitting club with a line-up that goes five deep.  There is a real lack of power in the line-up.  The seven returning position players only hit 12 homeruns between them last year in roughly 1,000 at bats.

Backstory
Of course, the Jayhawks should not let their guard down during the series.  Last year KU took both games played between these clubs but they were dogfights.  In the first game KU jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead before Andy Marks surrendered the advantage in the fifth inning.  With KU trailing 4-3 the Jayhawks had to rally to score single runs in the 8th and 9th to earn the win.  For the game KU was limited to four hits, but six NDS errors allowed the Jayhawks to visit the basepads fairly often.  The following night KU jumped all over the Bison, building an 8-0 lead after five innings, only to see NDS nibble their way back into the game before falling 8-5. Nick Czyz started the second game and gave up only one hit in his five innings of work.  It was his first NCAA win.  Morrison and Afner both hit homeruns off Laber. I was at both these games and remember the stands being somewhat anxious. KU had just won back to back Big-12 series vs. Texas Tech and Missouri. A stumble vs. NDS might break thier momentum. Thankfully order was restored both nights before the end of the ninth and the good people of Lawrence went home happy.

Before the season began I looked at the first three series and set some benchmarks.  I figured if the Jayhawks won 9 of the first 11, that would be OK.  Ten wins would be good. Winning all eleven was conceivable, but unlikely.  KU enters this three game series with a 7-1 record so as long as they take two of three I will think the Jayhawks are off to a pretty good start.  A sweep of the series, that would really get me to start thinking that this team might be better than I expected.