Kansas University’s baseball team opens the 2011 season at 6:30 tonight at top-ranked TCU.
By now, the whole idea of playing the No. 1 team in the nation is getting to be routine for the Jayhawks, who, in consecutive seasons, took a series from Texas (via sweep in 2009) and LSU (two out of three in 2010) while those clubs sat atop the college baseball polls.
Facing the challenge right out the gate will be a new experience for Kansas, but it’s one that coach Ritch Price believes his team is ready to face.
“I’m thrilled for the opportunity, and our players are thrilled for the opportunity,” Price said.
TCU is ranked No. 1 largely because of the strength of its starting pitching. All three starters from last season return, and all finished 2010 with an earned-run average lower than 3.40.
“We have to pitch as good as they’re gonna pitch,” Price said. “(TCU ace Matt) Purke is 16-0. He’s gonna be the first player taken in the draft. There’s no doubt about that. But their Saturday (Kyle Winkler, 12-3 in 2010) and Sunday (Steven Maxwell, 11-2 in 2010) starters won 11 and 12 games a year ago. They have tremendous starting pitching and they have six or seven starters back from their College World Series team from a year ago.”
Getting the game-one call for KU will be staff ace T.J. Walz, a senior from Omaha, Neb., who finished 8-5 with a 5.06 ERA last season.
Walz said he was eager to square off against the nation’s top arm.
“That’s the best possible way to open up,” Walz said. “I watched (Purke) throw in Omaha last year, and there’s no better guy to open up against and try to show him what you got.”
Though nobody has beaten Purke during his college career, Walz said the Jayhawks had a secret weapon who might help.
“Back in high school, (KU freshman) Tyler Smith (of Tomball High in Cypress, Texas) was the last guy to beat him, so I think we got that going for us,” Walz said.