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Baseball: KU (7-5) vs. Western Illinois (6-5)

The Jayhawks and the Western Illinois Leathernecks will play a one day, two game series on Sunday.  The series was originally planned to go the standard three games but was truncated due to the most recent bout of artic weather.  Sunday is forecast to be sunny and around 50 degrees so come on out to Hoglund Field and watch some baseball.

KU (7-5) 2006 RPI #33 Full stats here
Western Illinois University (6-5) 2006 RPI #233 Full stats here
KU swept the a three game series last year and leads the all time series 12-0.

Likely Pitching Match-ups
Sun Noon - Zach Ashwood (1-1, 4.60 ERA) vs. Quinn Leath (0-1, 1.80 ERA) Live broadcast on KLWN 1320-AM.
Sun game #2 - Nick Czyz (1-1, 2.87 ERA) vs. Travis Tolsma (1-1, 5.94 ERA)

Western Illinois in a nutshell
So far this year WIU has done well against small schools from Alabama (5-0 vs. Alabama State and Alabama A&M), and not so well vs. the Big-12 (0-5 vs. Texas Tech and Oklahoma).  In 2006 WIU won 20 of their last 26 games and finished with a record of 32-32.  They almost made the NCAA tournament, loosing in the Mid-Continent Conference finals vs. KU's newest hereditary enemy, the Golden Eagles of Oral Roberts University.  The Leathernecks are a program on the rise, winning 25, 29 and 32 games in each of the last three years, and they might have reached the point where they can give KU a scare.  Last year WIU knocked off Texas Tech, and have already come close to notching additional marquee wins this year.  They lost a close game to Texas Tech 13-11 and two nail-bitters to Oklahoma, 1-0 and 7-6.  According to the WIU team home page the Leathernecks feel this is the year they can take the MCC title away from Oral Roberts.  If so, it will be their first conference championship since 1984.

The Leatherneck's talent is in their line-up.  As a team they are hitting .308/.411/.434 on the season and scoring 8.0 runs a game.  Some members of their team are putting up ridiculous numbers:

Leatherneck key players. (Batting Average/ On-Base Percentage / Slugging Avg.)
15 Brett Pendell: 45 at bats (.511/.560/.711), 1 HR, 8 RBI, 5 SB.
23 Travis Check: 43 at bats (..395/.491/.581), 2 HR, 13 RBI, 4 SB.
19 Matt Newquist: 43 at bats (.372/.453/.535), 1 HR, 17 RBI.  17 RBI's in 11 games!
44 Peter Schneider: 28 at bats (.321/.485/.750), 3 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB
09 Jake Corley: 44 at bats (.318/.434/.409), 1 HR, 11 RBI.
17 Cooper Stewart: 26 at bats (.269/.296/.308), 3 RBI, 1 SB.
02 Kyle Surprenant: 38 at bats (.263/.391/.289), 4 RBI.
10 T.J. Kistner: 32 at bats (.188/.341/.313), 1 HR, 9 RBI, 4 SB.
03 Kelly Flanery: 29 at bats (.138/.219/.138), 1 RBI, 2 SB.

While the WIU line-up is not deep any team that has five guys with OPS' between .843 and 1.271 is going to score some runs.  Add to this the Leathernecks ability to run.  They have 21 stolen bases in 28 attempts over the first 11 games.  This could be a rough weekend for some KU pitchers.  Thankfully, WIU also has to use its pitchers half the time as well.  The Letherneck pitching staff, while not horrible, is as shallow as their line-up.

30 Todd Nelson: (1-1, 0.68 ERA), 13.1 Innings, 15 hits, 1/10 BB/K.  Opp. hitting .273.
*42 Quinn Leath: (0-1, 1.80 ERA), 5 Innings, 5 hits, 2/1 BB/K. Opp. hitting .233.
31 Frank Zenisek: (0-1, 3.85 ERA), 7 Innings, 3 hits, 7/12 BB/K.  Opp. hitting .111.
11 Rob Johnson: (2-0, 4.91 ERA), 18.1 Innings, 20 hits, 5/13 BB/K.  Opp. hitting .299.
*21 Travis Tolsma: (1-1, 5.94 ERA), 16.2 Innings, 25 hits, 3/15 BB/K.  Opp. hitting .355.
39 Asfandyar Khan: (0-0, 9.00 ERA), 4 Innings, 4 hits, 3/3 BB/K. Opp. hitting .235.
33 Aaron Madill: (2-0, 11.45 ERA), 11.0 Innings, 20 hits, 3/9 BB/K.  Opp. hitting .377.
27 M. DiBernardo: (0-0, 15.52 ERA), 4.1 Innings, 15 hits, 0/3 BB/K.  Opp. hitting .484.
* Likely starters vs. KU

...and that is about it.  They have 13 pitchers who have appeared, but after these first eight none have thrown more than 3.1 innings.  As a team WIU has a 5.85 ERA.  Zenisek might be a pro-prospect.  The Wichita native threw a 94-mph fastball in front of pro scouts, but clearly he needs to work on his control (seven walks in seven innings).  In his start vs. Texas Tech he pitched 0.2 innings, gave up three runs on five walks and ZERO hits.  Looks like a Nuke LaLoosh line.  If Zenisek pitches this weekend he will probably come out of the bullpen so stay in your seat late, he might be worth checking out.  How often do you get to see Baby Jay knocked out cold by a fastball into the bleachers?

In a nutshell, WIU is a great example of a good second-tier NCAA Div-I baseball team.  They have five good hitters, and five reliable pitchers.  This is enough to allow them to win a fair share of games vs. other second-tier schools, but not enough to allow them to remain competitive day after day vs. deeper more established programs.  KU will have their hands full keeping the Letherneck offense in check, but once the Jayhawk bats work their way into the visitor's bullpen they should be able to put up crooked numbers late.  Our friends over at the OU blog Crimson and Cream Machine describe WIU as a "streaky" offensive team which KU should be able to handle. In the five games WIU has played vs. Big-12 teams this year they have given up 12, 13, 1, 24 and 7 runs.  The average score of these losses was 11-5.  That is ugly baseball, but KU could use a few ugly wins right now.  A sweep on Sunday will go a ways towards righting the ship as the Jayhawks prepare for a very difficult stretch.  In the next two weeks KU will travel to (#11) Arkansas, (#30) Texas A&M and host (#16) Wichita State.  That is seven games vs. ranked teams in the 14 days following this series.  A little "mo" would be nice.