Separated from in-state rival Kansas State by a half game in the conference standings, Kansas University’s baseball team will square off with the Wildcats for three games this weekend with a trip to the Big 12 tournament on the line.
Game 1 is scheduled for 6:30 tonight in Manhattan. KU must win at least two of the three games to slide into the No. 8 spot in next week’s Big 12 tourney.
“The good thing is we don’t have to scoreboard-watch,” KU coach Ritch Price said. “We get to go out and play and control our own destiny. If we win the series, we’ll be playing, and K-State could be done.”
The Jayhawks (26-27 overall, 9-15 in Big 12) will send T.J. Walz (6-5) to the mound for the opener. Walz, the team’s unquestioned ace for the past two seasons, will be looking to set the school’s career wins record. He currently is tied with Jim Phillips (1980-83) with 26 career victories. K-State (31-21, 9-14) enters the Sunflower Showdown on the heels of an 11-inning loss at Wichita State on Tuesday. Prior to that, the Wildcats swept three games from New Orleans last weekend.
Kansas is coming off a four-game sweep of Alabama A&M.; The Jayhawks outscored the Bulldogs, 60-9, in 28 innings and snapped out of a funk during which they dropped back-to-back weekend Big 12 series.
“We’re on a good roll,” said KU senior Jimmy Waters. “And hopefully that’ll lead to some good things this weekend.”
Technically, this weekend’s battle is a home series for Kansas. But the two teams have split the venue for the last several years in order to draw more fans. Game 2 will be played at 6 p.m. Saturday at Hoglund Ballpark, and the finale is slated for 6 p.m. Sunday.
Despite the challenge of facing a near must-win game on the road to kick things off, Price is looking forward to tonight’s game.
“It’s a great rivalry, and they’ve done a really nice job of improving their program, too,” Price said of KSU. “The last couple of times we’ve played them there, we’ve had 1,500-2,000 people. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”