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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Kansas baseball rides hot streak toward tournament

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After jumping out to a 12-1 start and playing up-and-down baseball throughout March and early April, the Kansas University baseball team found itself in a tough spot heading into the final weeks of Big 12 conference play.

Needing every win they could muster to keep postseason hopes alive, the Jayhawks were swept at Oklahoma State in mid-April and fell to a season-worst four games above .500. Then came a ninth-inning collapse at home against Missouri State three days later.

All they’ve done since is rip off seven consecutive victories, including back-to-back conference sweeps for the first time since 1994. Just like that, the Jayhawks (30-20 overall, 12-9 Big 12) went from limping to the finish to playing some of the best baseball in the country.

“I’ve been really proud of how competitive this team has been all year and how resilient they’ve been,” KU coach Ritch Price said.

The 12th-year KU coach attributed the club’s never-say-die demeanor to its five seniors — outfielder Tucker Tharp, catchers Tom Hougland and Ka’iana Eldredge and starting pitchers Frank Duncan and Jordan Piche’.

“The great thing about the seniors is they lead by example, they grind every day and they prepare,” Price said. “It’s been a phenomenal bounce back by those young men.”

Never was that work ethic more evident than during the past 10 days, when the Jayhawks responded to the massive letdown with seven victories over perennial powers Baylor, Wichita State and Texas Tech. Four of the seven wins came on the road. All of them felt like gold since the Jayhawks were the preseason pick to finish dead last in the Big 12. They now sit alone in third place with three games to play.

“To a point, it gets a little old, because I feel like we’re always picked to finish last,” Duncan said Sunday after tossing a complete game to sweep Texas Tech. “But it never fazes us and it’s always like, ‘Thanks for adding that extra (motivation).’”

Price said he did not address the preseason ranking with his team. For a guy who has been coaching the game for nearly three decades, it meant very little. But he did not mind one bit that his team paid attention to it.

“The players took it personal,” Price said. “Especially (because) we were 12-12 in the conference last season and got to the championship game of the Big 12 tournament. They felt they had been completely disrespected.”

Today, victories, not preseason rankings, drive the Jayhawks, who elevated their RPI from the high 60s to 36th with back-to-back sweeps of Baylor and Texas Tech. Many believe the program’s fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament is right around the corner.

“We’re playing really good baseball right now,” Duncan said. “For whatever reason, the last couple years, we’ve always found ourselves playing our best baseball late in the season, and we’re continuing that trend right now.”

Added Price after last Sunday’s victory: “One of the great things about this club is they’re having fun. They’re having fun before the game, they’re having fun in the dugout and in the locker room and you can tell. It was Game 50 today and these guys are still in love with playing.”

The Jayhawks play a rematch with Missouri State on the road Wednesday before closing out Big 12 play at home this weekend with a three-game series against West Virginia, beginning at 6 p.m. Friday.

Big 12 Baseball Standings (as of May 6, 2014)

  1. Oklahoma State 13-5 (35-13)

  2. TCU 13-5 (34-13)

  3. Kansas 12-9 (30-20)

  4. West Virginia 9-8 (26-17)

  5. Texas 11-10 (34-15)

  6. Texas Tech 11-10 (36-16)

  7. Baylor 7-13 (22-27)

  8. Oklahoma 6-12 (26-23)

  9. Kansas State 4-14 (23-25)

Comments

Thomas Michaud 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Always been a big fan of Jayhawk Baseball and glad to see the team pulling it together at the end of the year—really hope for a spot in the post-season and a good (hopefully great) run.

While I know it's not always possible for every article, is there any way sports outside of Basketball and Football could show W-L records and League standings? I know it's merely a trip to the Big IIX website and looking for the baseball standings, but it would be nice to see it here too.

Tom

Matt Tait 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Definitely, Tom. Thanks for the idea.

The win/loss record is in most of the game stories (and also in this one) and we run the Big 12 standings in the paper. But I'll look into a better and more consistent way to get them on the site, too. The whole point is making it so KU fans don't have to leave KUsports.com.

Thanks for the feedback! - Matt

Tony Bandle 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Thank God we are better than K-State at SOMETHING besides basketball and debate!!!

Ryan Edmiston 6 months, 2 weeks ago

You forgot men's and women's golf, volleyball, women's basketball and men's and women's track.

Micky Baker 6 months, 2 weeks ago

What were those who predicted KU to finish dead last in baseball thinking? Just think what it might be if the number one starting pitcher didn't go down with Tommy John Surgery? KU could have 15 or even 16 wins in the Big 12 if that didn't happen.

However, just one win against WV this weekend guarantees 3rd place. If they sweep and TCU gets swept, KU get's second. OSU pretty much has the regular season title wrapped up.

KU is going to finish ahead of both Texas and Oklahoma and K-State is going to finish dead last, and they won't even be close to 2nd to last.

Jim Pendleton 6 months, 2 weeks ago

As of now, they actually need two wins this weekend to guarantee third. If we lost two of three, we would have 11 losses, and West Virginia only has 9 in that scenario. In addition if Texas and or Texas Tech sweeps their last series, they would only have 10 losses to our 11. So we could actually finish as low as 6th in this scenario.

However, I really like the way this bunch is playing right now. Like to see us get revenge on Mo St tonight in Springfield, then take at least two of three this weekend against WV. That sews up third, and we have a good road non-con series next weekend against Michigan. That should be a good tune up heading into the Big 12 Tourney. 2nd or heaven forbid 1st is a longshot, but let's take care of business this weekend, and see what everyone else does the next two weekends. Rock Chalk!!

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