Archive for Tuesday, April 13, 1999

KU BASEBALL IN SLUMP

April 13, 1999

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The 1993 College World Series flag no longer flies over Hoglund Ballpark.

It's more a matter of facilities -- Kansas hasn't found an appropriate place to put the flag in its new ballpark -- than apt metaphor for the state of the KU baseball program.

The Jayhawks will play perennial power -- and CWS regular -- Wichita State in a single game at 7 tonight. KU will enter with a 10-27 overall record, 4-17 in the Big 12, and it is riding a season-worst nine-game losing streak.

KU hasn't played in a postseason of any kind since 1996 and hasn't appeared in the NCAA tournament since 1994, the year after its first and only appearance in the CWS.

And, barring a drastic turnaround, the Jayhawks won't play in this year's postseason, either.

"I don't think anybody is more disappointed than I am -- me and our team," fourth-year KU coach Bobby Randall said. "We aren't doing well. It's out there for everybody to see. But I feel the same way about it I did the first day I walked in here. When I walked in here, I had no doubt we were going to win. And I still feel the same way."

In his first year at KU, Randall -- a Kansas State grad who had spent the previous 11 years as Iowa State's head coach -- went 26-30. He was 31-25 in 1997 and 22-29 last season.

He'll enter tonight's game two victories short of 400 -- at 398-422-1 over 15 years.

He'll also enter with a heavy heart.

"Last year was a case of being beat up with injuries," Randall said. "This year, we haven't played well. We haven't made improvement. All the things I feel responsible for as a coach " I feel at 4 o'clock in the morning, and I feel it a lot after games. The only time the joy comes back is when I come back to the baseball field.

"But, I'm not naive enough to know that you don't put all that money into a stadium and do all the things that have been done for this program and not expect results. Nobody wants results more than I do. I still have a passion for it. But there's going to be a lot of finger-pointing."

Especially this year. After all, this is Randall's fourth -- the year college coaches are most critically judged because just about all vestiges of the previous regime are gone -- and because this is the first year of refurbished Hoglund Ballpark.

"I think probably the thing that bothers me the most," Randall said, "is we've been given all we need to be good. We'll never have most. Texas has the most and always will. You can't outspend or outfinance Texas. But we've been given everything we need to be good. (At Iowa State), we did a lot more with less. We're doing less with more."

Last season Randall could point to injuries. This year, he can point to a brutal schedule -- one of the three toughest in the Big 12. At one point, 31 of KU's 56 games were against top-25 teams.

"That's taking its toll on a young team, big-time," Randall said. "We're a young team that's getting beat a lot. One of the biggest mistakes I made this year is misjudging our talent level. Our schedule is too difficult for our talent level. We haven't developed any confidence in winning."

Though the Jayhawks have struggled of late, Randall still has the confidence of his boss, athletics director Bob Frederick.

"We have a team that has a lot of freshmen and sophomores," Frederick said. "We've been close in a lot of games, but we're trying to get over the hump. We have confidence in our staff and the kids and we just hope to get it turned around."

Does that mean Randall shouldn't fear for his job?

"Amy (Perko, associate AD) evaluates the baseball program every year," Frederick said, "just like all our sports programs."

Randall won't focus on the possibility of losing his job.

"Nobody wants this program to be terrific more than I do," Randall said. "It's just like playing. You give it your best, and if somebody says that's not good enough, you just move on. That's not something I dwell on. I'm thinking forward about how we can become a better team. I'm just trying to figure out how we'll be better tomorrow night, and the next night. I won't give up until the final pitch."

-- Andrew Hartsock's phone number is 832-7216. His e-mail address is ahartsock@ljworld.com.

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