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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Big 12 title up for grabs

Top eight fight for postseason championship

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Stuart Villanueva/AP Photo, Bryan College Station Eagle

Texas' Kyle Russell, center, is congratulated by teammates after hitting a two-run home run against Texas A&M on Saturday. The Longhorns swept the top-seeded Aggies over the weekend and will take that momentum into today's Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City.

What Keegan says

The good news: Kansas University baseball coach Ritch Price has developed in-state recruiting contacts to the point he now is the man to beat for the best prospects in Kansas.

The bad news: He will have to continue to mine area talent because warm-weather pitchers still shy from considering KU, where early-season rainouts postpone games and cold nights leave pitchers blowing into their hands.

The good news: Pitchers from cold-weather schools tend to draw positive grades in toughness for not insisting on attending a warm-weather school.

Pitchers who endured lousy weather in college do make it to the big leagues. Some examples: KU's Tom Gorzelanny (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Mike Zagurski (Philadelphia Phillies), Missouri's Max Scherzer (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Doug Mathis (Texas Rangers) and Nebraska's Joba Chamberlain, the favorite player of Yankees boss Hank Steinbrenner.

Kansas didn't make the Big 12 tournament field for three reasons: pitching, pitching and pitching.

- Tom Keegan

In case anyone's keeping track, Texas A&M; leads the Big 12 in postseason conference championships this academic year with five.

There have been 19 postseason sports titles played out in the Big 12, and one more remains, lingering into the summer after college students have vacated their respective campuses.

Baseball is the only sport still taking place on college campuses across America. The Big 12 baseball tournament begins today, when Texas A&M; will try to defend its title at AT&T; Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.

Eight of the conference's 10 teams make the tournament. Kansas and Texas Tech started their summers early. It's fair to say it's anyone's title for the taking. The Big 12 has five teams ranked in the Baseball America Top 25 poll, more than any other major conference in the nation.

Here are four games to watch in this week's tournament:

No. 5 Texas vs. No. 4 Missouri

When: 9 a.m. today.

Player to watch: Aaron Crow, Missouri. The Big 12 Pitcher of the Year is an absurd 12-0 with a 2.66 earned-run average. He has 111 strikeouts in 91 innings. If you want to watch the best pitcher in the conference and arguably the nation, this future top-five draft pick is your guy.

Season series: Missouri leads, 2-1.

Developing storyline: These are arguably the two hottest teams in the Big 12. The Longhorns closed the regular season by sweeping conference-leading Texas A&M;, while the Tigers ended the regular season with a sweep of Nebraska.

Local connection: Crow grew up around KU and attended Washburn Rural High School. Kansas coach Ritch Price recruited him, but couldn't lure him to Lawrence.

No. 1 Texas A&M; vs. No. 5 Texas

When: 4 p.m. Thursday.

Player to watch: Jose Duran, Texas A&M.; The shortstop is a hitting machine. He leads the conference with a .397 average and 94 hits (in 56 games). Duran, the younger brother of Texas Rangers second/third baseman German Duran, hits cleanup for the Aggies.

Season series: Texas leads, 3-0.

Developing storyline: The Aggies may have won the regular-season Big 12 title, but the Longhorns just swept them to close the season. Two of the three games were played in College Station, Texas.

UT freshman Chance Ruffin anchored a Longhorns pitching staff that held the Aggies to an average of 2.33 runs in three games.

A&M; averaged 7.77 runs per game on the season.

Local connection: Texas A&M; assistant coach Andy Sawyers coached at Hutchinson Community College, where he led the Dragons to a Jayhawk West sub-regional title in 2001.

No. 2. Oklahoma State vs. No. 3 Nebraska

When: 4 p.m. Saturday

Player to watch: Ribel Ridling, Oklahoma State. If you want to see a college masher/slugger, check out the Cowboys' No. 5 hitter in the lineup. Ridling, a first baseman, leads the Big 12 in total bases with 141 and is second in home runs with 16.

Season series: Oklahoma State leads, 2-1.

Developing storyline: The Huskers batters could have their hands full. Nebraska is second-to-last in the Big 12 in hitting (.279 team average, league-low 198 walks), while Oklahoma State leads the league in pitching (league-low 3.81 team ERA). Tyler Lyons (10-2, 3.06 ERA) is a big part of the equation for the Cowboys.

Local connection: Nebraska pitcher Erik Anderson (1-0, 4.11 ERA in 15 appearances) played baseball at Shawnee Mission East High School and Barton County Community College before heading to Lincoln, Neb.

The Big 12 tournament championship game

When: 1 p.m. Sunday.

TV: Fox Sports Net, Sunflower Broadband channels 36, 236.

Local connection: Kansas won the Big 12 tournament in 2006, but hasn't qualified for the tournament since. What's particularly frustrating for KU (9-18 Big 12) this season is the fact that Oklahoma, at 9-17-1, took the final spot in the tournament. The Jayhawks swept the Sooners in the regular season.

Prediction: Texas defeats Oklahoma State, 6-2.

























Big 12 Tournament news, stats

Tournament format

The Big 12 tournament will be played in a pool-play format. The teams with the best records from the two pools will play in Sunday's championship game. Each team will play a minimum of three games.

Pool 1

No. 1 Texas A&M;, No. 4 Missouri, No. 5 Texas, No. 8 Oklahoma.

Pool 2

No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 3 Nebraska, No. 6 Baylor, No. 7 Kansas State.

Schedule

Today

Game 1: MU vs. UT, 9 a.m.Game 2: A&M; OU, 12:30 p.m.Game 3: NU vs. BU, 4 p.m.Game 4: OSU vs. KSU, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday

Game 5: A&M; vs. UT, 4 p.m.Game 6: MU vs. OU, 7:30 p.m.

Friday

Game 7: NU vs. KSU, 4 p.m.Game 8: OSU vs. BU, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday

Game 9: UT vs. OU, 9 a.m.Game 10: A&M; vs. MU, 12:30 p.m.Game 11: OSU vs. NU, 4 p.m.Game 12: BU vs. KSU, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday

Big 12 Championship, 1 p.m.

Previous champs

Nebraska

1999200020012005

Texas

20022003

Texas A&M;

2007

Kansas

2006

Oklahoma State

2004

Texas Tech

1998

Oklahoma

1997

All-Big 12 Team

The Big 12 announced its All-Big 12 Baseball Awards on Tuesday:

Player of the YearJose Duran, Texas A&M;

Pitcher of the YearAaron Crow, Missouri

Freshman of the YearChance Ruffin, Texas

Newcomer of the YearJose Duran, Texas A&M;

Coach of the YearRob Childress, Texas A&M;

Stat leaders

Individual batting

1. Jose Duran, A&M;, .3972. Dane Carter, A&M;, .3833. Mike Gosse, OU, .378

Individual pitching

1. Chance Ruffin, UT, 1.84 ERA2. Kyle Thebeau, A&M;, 1.87

Home runs

1. Roger Kieschnick, TTU, 172. Rebel Ridling, OSU, 16T3. Kyle Russell, UT, 15T3. Jacob Priday, MU, 15

Strikeouts

1. Aaron Crow, MU, 1112. Johnny Dorn, NU, 93

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