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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dugan Arnett’s KU baseball notebook

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Ridenhour to face Baylor again

Representing the last line of defense in the Kansas University baseball team’s quest to avoid a winless Big 12 tournament, Lee Ridenhour will take the mound at 9 a.m. today against eighth-seeded Baylor.

And without question, the freshman righthander will be hoping things go better than they did in his last outing against the Bears — a day in which winds reached 30 miles-per-hour and blew forcefully out of KU’s Hoglund Ballpark, creating a not-so-pleasant day for Ridenhour and the rest of the team’s pitching staff in a 21-9 KU loss.

“In my opinion, it’s the only time I thought that after (an opponent) got after him, he didn’t compete,” said KU coach Ritch Price, before the start of Friday morning’s practice at Bricktown Ballpark. “He couldn’t leave the ball up. He couldn’t pitch (inside) with the way the wind was blowing to right. He had to pitch down and away, and he wasn’t able to locate it.”

The result was a rare off-day for the former Shawnee Mission West standout, who was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 31st round of last June’s free agent draft before deciding to attend Kansas.

Ridenhour gave up six runs on seven hits — including back-to-back first inning home runs — before being pulled after the third inning, with the Jayhawks trailing, 6-5.

“I didn’t think I threw terrible,” said Ridenhour, who is 6-2 with a 4.37 earned-run average this season. “I think I threw three innings and I struck out five guys, so it wasn’t that my pitches were bad. But if I got a ball up, it was a home run.”

This time around, weather conditions should be a bit more agreeable, as temperatures are expected to be in the mid-70s with limited winds.

Of course, Ridenhour will face the unfortunate task of taking on a Bears team that, having been eliminated from a spot in the tournament’s title game following Thursday’s 9-4 loss to fourth-seeded Kansas State, will be bringing a nothing-to-lose mentality into what will likely be its final game of the season.

“It’s the last day to play for the seniors in their dugout,” said Price. “And for those players that are juniors that are trying to improve their draft status, there’s going to be 25 scouts here making their final evaluations of Baylor’s juniors.

“So Lee’s going to have to be at his best to give us a chance to win.”

Price ‘surprised’ by player of the year

When the Big 12 Conference announced its 2009 baseball award winners on Tuesday, at least one person was rather perplexed with the player of the year selection.

“I was surprised,” said Price of the coaches’ pick of Oklahoma senior catcher J.T. Wise over KU’s Tony Thompson. “I think maybe one of the differences might have been that Tony’s a sophomore and Wise is a senior— and Wise plays catcher, which is a premium position defensively.

“I can understand that part,” he added. “But ... personally — and I’m biased — I thought Thompson should have won.”

The statistics don’t necessarily dispute this sentiment.

Wise, the top player on the No. 8 Sooners, finished the regular season ranked second in the Big 12 in home runs (17) and eighth in batting average (.369), while Thompson led the conference in hits (84), home runs (18), RBIs (74), doubles (25) and total bases (163).

Kansas' sophomore third baseman finished sixth in the league in batting average, meanwhile, at .370.

Despite his gaudy numbers, however, Thompson on Friday insisted he had no qualms with the trophy finding its way into Wise’s hands.

“J.T. Wise is a great player, so I don’t feel bad about it at all,” said Thompson, who this spring tied KU’s single-season school record for home runs. “He’s had an awesome year and been an amazing player, especially when we played him. So I don’t feel very bad about that at all. I figure the best guy won it.”

Stanfield a bright spot for Jayhawks

While many of Kansas’ top players have struggled to find their offensive groove throughout the first three days of the Big 12 tournament, the same can’t be said for reserve infielder James Stanfield — whose recent surge has been one of the Jayhawks’ few bright spots.

After replacing designated hitter Zac Elgie during the sixth inning of Wednesday’s 5-4 loss to Kansas State, Stanfield reached base on an infield single to shortstop. An inning later, he slapped a two-run single to right field that gave Kansas a 4-3 lead, and during the following day’s matchup with Texas, went 1-for-3 as KU’s starter at DH, recording one of only four KU hits against Longhorns ace Chance Ruffin.

For the tournament, Stanfield is a combined 3-for-5 with a team-high two RBIs.

“The whole year, I’ve just been trying to do whatever I could, step in when I’m needed, help out the team as much as I can,” said Stanfield, a freshman from Owasso, Okla. “And now that I’ve kind of got in there, it’s been nice to do what I can.”

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