OKLAHOMA CITY It's funny where some Kansas University baseball players mine their motivation. Take outfielder Casey Spanish, one of the Jayhawks' top hitters, for instance.
After backing into the Big 12 Conference tournament following Sunday's loss to Kansas State, Spanish vented about how the 8-6 defeat might help his team while playing top-seeded Nebraska.
"Hopefully, it will send a little fire underneath us to get out there and get after somebody," Spanish said. "Me personally, I kind of let myself slip a little bit, so I'll be fired up to redeem myself."
Game time is 8 tonight at SBC Bricktown Ballpark, with a live broadcast on KLWN radio 1320.
Spanish was 0-for-5 in the basically meaningless loss to K-State, but one night before making those comments Spanish blasted two home runs and drove in four, propelling KU to its only victory in the three-game set.
The Jayhawks settled for the eighth and final seed in this week's tournament by a half-game over Texas Tech, making that one victory a matter of postseason life or the same old regular-season death KU had experienced for the last six years.
Spanish's desire to escape his Sunday O-fer aside, the senior outfielder from Savage, Minn., is thrilled to be able to play tonight. Spanish, who is hitting .384 with 10 home runs, 53 RBIs and 14 stolen bases, earned his first postseason appearance in his last chance.
"We're excited to get down there and surprise some people," Spanish said. "We have to play hard and play all nine innings. I think we'll be all right if we do that."
Nebraska (42-14 overall, 20-7 Big 12) won the Big 12 regular-season championship in thrilling fashion Sunday, clipping Baylor 7-6 to take the title by a game over Texas A&M.
Earlier this season, the Huskers took two of three from the Jayhawks at Hoglund Ballpark.
"They've had a great year," KU coach Ritch Price said. "For them to win the Big 12 Conference outright is a big compliment to coach (Mike) Anderson in his first year as head coach."
Kansas (35-26, 9-18) will send senior Kevin Wheeler with his 6-5 record and 4.87 earned run average to the hill tonight. He'll face NU's Aaron Marsden, who's 7-2 with a 2.64 ERA.
April 4 against KU, Marsden recorded just four outs, giving two runs on three hits before leaving the game with a sore arm.
If the Jayhawks can top Nebraska, ranked No. 7 in the latest Top 25 poll, they'll play the winner of the Missouri-Baylor game at 8 p.m. Thursday. If the Jayhawks lose, they'll play at 1 p.m. Thursday.¢
Ex-Lion shines for NU: Nebraska sophomore Curtis Ledbetter, a 2000 Lawrence High graduate, has been sensational, hitting .341 with 12 homers and 46 RBIs this season. He's a contender for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors. Ledbetter, who played in junior college last season, compiled a 23-game hitting streak earlier in the season -- the longest in the Big 12 this spring.¢
Johnson update: Another former city prep standout, Free State High graduate and KU junior relief pitcher Brandon Johnson, hasn't played in two weeks because of a sore elbow.
|Who: No. 8 seed Kansas University (35-26 overall, 9-18 Big 12) vs. No. 1 Nebraska (44-14, 20-7).When: 8 tonight.Where: SBC Bricktown Ballpark, Oklahoma City.Radio: 1320 KLWN.Pitchers: Kevin Wheeler (6-5, 4.87 ERA) vs. Aaron Marsden (7-2, 2.64).|
"We'll only be able to pitch him one day in the tournament," Price said of Johnson, who has a 7-3 record and seven saves.
Johnson likely will need surgery after the season to relocate his ulnar nerve, which is rubbing against his elbow.
"They say it's a very simple operation," Price said. "He'll be 100 percent in two months."¢
Price-Anderson connection: Price credits NU coach Anderson with bringing him to Lawrence last summer. KU's first-year coach learned of the opening through Anderson. A three-game series with Nebraska last season while Price was at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo intrigued him about baseball in the Big 12.
"I've never seen that type of fanaticism for college baseball," Price said of Nebraska, which draws an average of 4,000 fans a game. "We're trying now to take those same strides that they've been taking."