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Archive for Friday, January 27, 2006

Boys of spring pumped

Price, KU excited to begin season next week

January 27, 2006

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Kansas University's baseball squad is looking at its season-opening trip to Hawaii a little differently than in years past.

Sure, there's still the same excitement everyone has about spending a week in a tropical paradise. But, unlike past seasons, this trip won't mark the Jayhawks' first outdoor baseball experience of the year.

Because of unusually mild weather KU has practiced outside for the last 11 days, prompting some Jayhawks to say they're already warmed up and ready to prove they finally can jump into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994.

"We've played as good as any team I've ever coached over the last 10 days," KU baseball coach Ritch Price said Thursday at the team's media day. "We're knocking the ball around the yard about as good as it can be done. We're looking forward to seeing someone in a different colored jersey."

Price will get his wish starting Wednesday, when KU begins a six-game series against Hawaii-Hilo.

The Jayhawks could benefit from a fast start, because Price has put together a difficult nonconference schedule that includes four ranked teams to go along with the always tough Big 12 Conference season.

In all, Kansas will face nine teams that currently are ranked in one of the four major college baseball polls.

Price said he scheduled more quality opponents this season to prepare for Big 12 play. He wants to ensure that, if his squad reaches an unprecedented fourth consecutive 30-victory season, the Jayhawks' RPI would be high enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament.

"My biggest goal for my coaching staff is to take this team to the next level," said Price, who has seven position players, two starting pitchers, and senior closer Don Czyz back from last year's 36-28 team.

"We've turned the program around, and we've had some success. Now, if I can get this team into the NCAA Tournament, it would be a great legacy to our seniors."

However, a NCAA bid might seem like a tall order for a Kansas squad that was picked eighth in the preseason Big 12 coaches poll.

But don't tell that to the Jayhawk seniors.

Senior outfielder Gus Milner said he expected KU to finish as one of the top five teams in the Big 12 because the Jayhawks' offense would be more consistent.

"We have enough talent to do that with our pitching staff and offense," said Milner, KU's top returning offensive leader - who had nine home runs and 45 RBIs last season.

"We want to make a nice little story this year. A Cinderella year for KU."

Czyz said he thought Kansas had its best pitching staff in recent memory.

Four senior pitchers return to anchor the staff, and five freshmen will join the mix, one of whom is Czyz's younger brother, Nick.

"I think this is the year," Don Czyz said. "I'm very excited."

One thing is for certain to fellow senior Matt Baty: There are no second chances.

"It's definitely go time," said Baty, who said he was is 100 percent after battling through a knee injury last year. "We've got to prove ourselves."

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