Kansas (33-16) will face the Shockers today in Wichita. First pitch 7PM. Wichita State is suffering through an uncommonly mediocre year. The Shockers are 24-23 overall, and their 8-7 MVC record has them in fourth place. WSU has no hope of receiving an NCAA at-large bid (RPI #109) so their only hope of making the big dance is winning the MVC tournament, which they host May 20-23. Wichita will, by necessity, be thinking more about their weekend series at Southern Illinois today. The Salukis sit in 6th place in the MVC with an 8-9 record. After this weekend in Carbondale Wichita State returns home to end its season facing Creighton (14-3 in the MVC). The games against at Southern Illinois are so important because only the top six teams in the MVC qualify for the conference tournament. If the Shockers do not take care of business this weekend, and do not manage to upset the Blue Jays at home the following weekend, they face the real possibility of not even qualifying for the tournament they are hosting. Quite a thought there.
What happened last night puts the Shockers into even a tighter spot. Oral Roberts beat Wichita State in Wichita 7-6 in a 13-inning game. Wichita was forced to use nine pitchers in the game. How much gas will Gene Stephenson be willing to waste tonight against KU after last night’s long game, and with the knowledge that he has a very important road series right around the corner, will be one of tonight’ story lines.
The pitching match-up tonight will be the same as it was the first time Kansas and Wichita State played this year. The Hawks will send freshman Lee Ridenhour to the mound. Ridenhour shut down Wichita State on March 11th, giving KU eight shut-out innings on a freezing cold night. Lee is coming off easily his worst outing of the year on Sunday in Norman were he only lasted 0.2 innings, but overall he has had an excellent first season with a 4-2 record and a 4.10 ERA in 63.2 innings. The Shockers will rely on the same 6’8 left-handed freshman Kansas beat in March, Brian Flynn. Flynn has a 1-4 record and a 5.93 ERA in 41 innings of work. Flynn has faced some pretty good teams this year (Oral Roberts, OU, NU, KSU and Oklahoma State) and at times pitched fairly well. He has only gotten through six full innings once all year. His obvious weaknesses is control (4.4 walks per 9) and pitch economy. WSU only won one of the five Flynn starts listed above and in those contest he used an average of 94 pitches to go 5.1 innings. After last night’s marathon Stephenson will look to Flynn for a longer outing tonight.
Why exactly is WSU so down this year? The real problem has been at the plate. The Shockers are a below average offensive team by almost all measures. Their team batting line pales to KU’s (.273/.363/.384). The Shockers lack power – 25 homeruns in 47 games – and are a tick below NCAA average in on base percentage. They have run quite a bit in 2009, 85 steals in 113 attempts, but not enough to offset their larger problems. The bottom line is an average of about two fewer runs per game than Kansas (5.4 vs. 7.3). Full WSU stats found here.
The game will be broadcast live and webcast on KLWN (AM 1320). If you plan on going call ahead. I would not be surprised if it sells out and 7,000 fans come out for the rivalry game. Shocker baseball fans have not had a lot to cheer about this year so if WSU plays well I expect a lot of emotion will come out tonight.
After the jump, quite a few links to recent articles about the Jayhawks and the larger world of college hardball. Take a look.
Boyd’s World published odds of the various Big-12 teams winning the regular season conference crown on Monday. It does not look good for KU. Texas is on top with a 47% chance of winning the Big-12 outright. Kansas State comes in a close second at 41%. After that there is a big drop off. Texas A&M has a 7% chance of winning it outright and a 1% chance of earning a co-championship. Oklahoma comes in at a 3% chance of either winning the title or sharing it. Kansas is still alive at a 2% chance of gaining either of those results. Missouri even has a dim hope, seven tenths of one percent.
Regarding Big-12 NCAA bids, I’ll summarize in my own words the collected wisdom found across the internets. Texas is in and is looking good to earn a super-regional host slot which would give the Longhorns home field advantage all the way through to the College World Series. Kansas State is in and has a pretty good chance of winning a regional host slot which would give the Bat Cats a first round 4-team tournament in Manhattan. Provided KSU won that regional they would have to hit the road as part of the sweet sixteen. Texas A&M and OU are both in, and have some hope of regional host slot(s) as well. Kansas and Missouri are now both safely in, absent collapses in the final two weeks. Baylor is on the happy side of the bubble, while Oklahoma State is on the sad side. Texas Tech and Nebraska have no hope of an at-large.
So, it looks like the Big-12 has six in for sure, Baylor would make it seven, and an outside chance of getting eight if Oklahoma State finishes strong.
Josh Bowe of the UDK published a profile of Robby Price with some nice personality. Explaining Robby’s recent hot steak his father said "He’s just healthier. To raise his average 70 points in three weeks in our conference is a remarkable feat." I guess I was not aware how much Robby was working through this year. Coach Price speculates that Robby might be "the best second baseman in the country" defensively, and I can’t take issue with that. At least I cannot remember seeing a better one over the last several years.
Matt Tait has published a few good articles on the Jayhawks over the last few weeks in the LJ World. Here is part of a profile of local product Brian Heere from last week:
After spending the majority of his prep career getting by on raw talent, Heere, a Lawrence High product, has begun to craft his game by using his mind, spending offseasons perfecting his swing, working constantly to fine-tune his approach at the plate and continually improving his strength and speed.
The result? Heere currently leads the Big 12 in on-base percentage (.497), is second in batting average (.386), has become a legitimate No. 3 hitter in the Jayhawks’ lineup — and continues to amaze even himself.
Lawrence High (12-4) and Free State (11-1) have a combined record of 23-5 this season. KU’s 33-16 record also is cause for pride for the Lawrence baseball community since four of Ritch Price’s players graduated from Lawrence high schools. Left-handed reliever Travis Blankenship, reserve first baseman Brett Lisher and starting second baseman Robby Price all played for Mike Hill on Free State’s 2006 state championship team. So did right-hander Scott Heitshusen, who is sitting out the season because of an arm injury after transferring from Michigan State. Middle infielder Jordan Dreiling is red-shirting. (Freshman Kelson Boyer pitched nine innings for KU before being dismissed from the team. He pitched for Free State as a senior).
Price’s right fielder, Brian Heere, leads KU with a .367 batting average and .474 on base percentage. He played baseball for Lawrence High and also was Dirk Wedd’s quarterback.
Former Firebirds Jake Hoover (Dayton) and John Sneegas (Western Illinois) also are playing Div. I baseball, as are former Lions Nick DeBiasse (Rice), Tyler Knight (Sam Houston State) and Daniel Parker (Illinois).