Manhattan — As if there already wasn't enough pressure with recruiting rights and bragging battles between Kansas University and Kansas State University.
Now, any realistic opportunity for either team to qualify for next month's Big 12 Conference baseball tournament also is on the line tonight when their three-game Sunflower Series begins in Manhattan.
"I think it'll make or break us. Our backs are against the wall," KU shortstop Ritchie Price said of the Jayhawks, who travel to KSU's Tointon Stadium for tonight's 6:30 game, before returning to Lawrence for a 7 p.m. showdown Saturday and 2 p.m. game Sunday at Hoglund Ballpark.
Kansas (27-20), last out of 10 teams in the conference with a 4-10 record, can't afford to drop any games to its state-rival Wildcats (22-18), who are tied with Texas A&M for eighth with a 6-12 league mark.
While the Aggies have a better overall record, K-State just took two of three from A&M. Only eight Big 12 teams will travel to Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City for the conference tourney.
"It's probably one of the most important series since coach (Ritch) Price has been here," said KU outfielder A.J. Van Slyke, who was just named the Big 12's player of the week because of his .545 average, a pair of home runs and six RBIs in three games last week. "It's huge. It's humongous."
The Jayhawks are riding their biggest wave of momentum since mid-March after winning three straight, including a pair of victories over New Mexico State and Sacramento State in the Best of the Midwest Tournament at the Kansas City T-Bone's CommunityAmerica Ballpark in Kansas City, Kan.
Still, KU has yet to string together back-to-back Big 12 victories. Kansas needs to get hot in a hurry with remaining conference series looming against: Texas, the top-ranked team in the nation, according to Baseball America; Missouri, currently third in the Big 12; and Oklahoma State, the league's fifth-best team and being able to claim five more victories than the Jayhawks.
However, continuing that momentum could be an even tougher task considering the Wildcats are red hot themselves, winning two straight conference series.
Kansas will waste no time tonight, tossing No. 1 pitcher Kodiak Quick (8-4), who will attempt to become the first Jayhawk pitcher to win at least nine games since the 2001 season.
Asked what he thought would be the key to the in-state series, coach Price said: "Our starting pitching. We have to get to the sixth or seventh inning without getting in a big hole. We can't get buried early."
|Records: Jayhawks (27-20 overall, 4-10 Big 12 Conference), Wildcats (22-18, 6-12)When: 6:30 tonight at Tointon Stadium in Manhattan; 7 p.m. Saturday at Hoglund Ballpark; 2 p.m. Sunday at Hoglund BallparkCoaches: KU's Ritch Price, 3rd year, 93-79-1; KSU's Brad Hill, 2nd year, 48-48Radio: KLWN-AM (1320)PROBABLE STARTERSFriday: Kodiak Quick (RHP, 8-4, 3.75 ERA) vs. Chase Mitchell (LHP, 4-5, 5.66)Saturday: Tyson Corley (RHP, 1-0, 4.84) vs. Mitch Walter (RHP 2-3, 4.37)Sunday: Mike Zagurski (LHP, 4-4, 5.19) vs. Adam Cowart (RHP 6-2, 4.06)|