HILO, Hawaii For the second straight year, the Kansas University baseball team will kick off its season on the Big Island against the University of Hawaii-Hilo.
The squads play a doubleheader at 9 CST tonight at Wong Stadium, kicking off a five-day, seven-game series.
"We're trying to use that trip just like a spring-training trip would be for a professional club," second-year KU coach Ritch Price said. "It guarantees that we're going to get outside. It guarantees we're going to play in warm weather. Our goal is to get better each of the seven days that we're there."
Keeping with that theme, KU's strategy is largely unscripted. The team has not named a starting pitcher for any of the games. Price said many of the decisions would be made on game days during three-hour morning practices.
Although no starter has been named, all of the Jayhawks' pitchers expect to see action.
"Right now, we're going to start out with alternating guys in there, platooning guys," senior right-hander Chris Smart said. "For now it's going to be a little mix and matching."
"We need to get better (in Hawaii). I think that's the whole thing. The coaches said it's like our spring training, but it's a spring training where the record counts, so each game we need to improve."
In addition to pitching, KU will use the Hilo series to work out other kinks. The Jayhawks have three new starters in the field -- left fielder Andy Scholl, center fielder J.C. Sibley and catcher Sean Richardson -- who must jell with five starting fielders. Price also will juggle his batting lineup to find a cohesive group that can steadily produce runs.
"By no means are we underestimating Hilo, but we go down there and we know we've got some things we've got to work on," senior first-baseman Ryan Baty said. "We've got to get those things done in game situations."
The Hawaii trip last year quickly put the Jayhawks on the national map, and they used that momentum to create a buzz the rest of the season.
Ryan Baty, a 2004 Preseason All-American, was named National Hitter of the Week following the trip and continued his scorching streak throughout the season. Third baseman Travis Metcalf garnered the same honor the following week. The Jayhawks cracked the Top 25 two weeks later.
Price said he had similar expectations for this year's trip.
"It's certainly an opportunity to make a name for ourselves, to get off to a good start, and get a chance to get ourselves nationally ranked, too," he said.