Every season, Kansas University baseball coach Ritch Price looks forward to playing Southwest Missouri State.
"Its become a really good rivalry," he said. "They were in the College World Series two years ago, and we recruit a lot of the same players."
The teams have their first of two meetings this season at 3 p.m. today at Hoglund Ballpark.
At 1-5, the Bears won't approach the game lightly. This year, SMS has yet to resemble the squad that made it to Omaha in 2003.
SMS, which was picked to finish third in the preseason Missouri Valley Conference polls, is in the league cellar after last weekend's Southern Mississippi Invitational in Hattiesburg, Miss.
The Bears earned their first victory of the season Friday against McNeese State, 6-1, but dropped two games Saturday. They lost to host Southern Miss, 8-7, after two errors in the ninth inning and could not rebound in the nightcap as they were slammed by Mercer, 9-0.
The Bears return 18 lettermen from a squad that split the season series with the Jayhawks last season, but experience has yet to net positive results. The Bears have been outscored, 49-22, in six contests this year, and their pitchers have been roughed up with a collective earned-run average of 7.35. Opponents are hitting the SMS hurlers at a .311 clip.
A struggling pitching staff gives Kansas reason to be excited, as the Jayhawks (12-4) are scoring an average of 8.7 runs per game, including 10.5 per victory, and are hitting .307 as a team.
The Jayhawk pitchers have been equally impressive, yielding opponents to a mere .224 batting average while posting an ERA of 2.66.
Kansas won two of three from Northern Colorado during the weekend. In the series finale Saturday, junior outfielder A.J. Van Slyke hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning, securing a 9-8 victory.
"They're a great team," Van Slyke, a Ladue, Mo., native, said of SMS. "Here, there, wherever, I love playing those guys."