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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Baylor, Big 12 don’t scare Jayhawks

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Well, why not Kansas University?

KU baseball has not fared well in the nine-year reign of the Big 12 Conference, but who cares? This year's Jayhawks feel they're different from the previous eight versions -- none of which won a postseason game.

Lately, KU's players have been relaxed and confident. In baseball, that stands for a lot.

The Jayhawks will see where the new attitude can take them at 1 p.m. today during the first day of the Big 12 tournament at SBC Bricktown Ballpark. KU will play Baylor, the only league team to sweep the Jayhawks this season.

But again, who cares?

"One through eight are the good teams in the conference," outfielder Matt Baty said. "It doesn't matter who we play."

Kansas can't help but feel included. At 36-26 overall, the Jayhawks won seven of their last 11 conference games and leaped from last place to seventh.

After Baylor completed a three-game sweep April 17, KU dropped to 3-9 in league play and its Big 12 tourney hopes were a pipe dream. Now, an NCAA regional berth is possible if the Jayhawks can string together victories this week.

"I told my guys, a year ago, Missouri was a six seed and played for the title," KU coach Ritch Price said. "Once you get there, anything can happen."

Kansas is in the tournament for the second time in Price's three years. In '03, Kansas went 0-2, falling to Nebraska and Missouri, then missed the tournament last season.

"It's a great event," Price said. "They averaged over 7,000 (fans) a game when were there two years ago. It's a great way to finish out the season, and it's great to play in something really special."



But, at the same time, Kansas is shooting for enough success this week so it's NOT the finish to the season. KU will bring its big guns into the first two games of the double-elimination tournament, throwing Kodiak Quick (10-5, 3.53 earned-run average) against the Bears today, with left-hander Mike Zagurski (8-4, 4.46) going Thursday. Zagurski has been especially solid during KU's turnaround, winning his last four conference starts.

Offensively, KU has been steady from the get-go -- but none more so than first baseman Jared Schweitzer, who's hitting a team-best .372 this season, and outfielder A.J. Van Slyke, who's leading KU in home runs (12) and RBIs (57).

With a combination of hitting and pitching, the Jayhawks have racked up 36 victories heading into today's clash, the most from a KU team since 1994 -- also the last time KU played in the NCAA regionals.

With the regionals door cracked open, KU is hoping to bust it down and prolong the season.

Hey, why not KU?

"In the last five weeks, we've been as good as anybody in this league," Price said. "Now we have an opportunity to show how far we've grown and how much better we are."

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