There's no doubt who Kansas University leftfielder John Allman thinks is the best baseball team in the Sunflower State.
"We're definitely the best team in the state," said Allman, moments after the Jayhawks defeated No. 17 Wichita State, 8-2, Wednesday night in front of a record crowd of 2,324 at Hoglund Ballpark.
KU coach Ritch Price wasn't too fond of his sophomore's comments, figuring a steaming Shocker squad doesn't need any extra motivation when KU travels to Wichita for the second game of the annual series next Wednesday.
But there's no denying that the results, if not the rivalry, between KU and WSU has gotten a lot closer since Price's arrival on Mt. Oread four years ago. The KU skipper is 5-4 over that time.
But then again WSU hasn't been to a College World Series since 1996.
Numbers aside there's no denying Kansas-Wichita State is a big game.
"Our players love to play against them," said Price, whose Jayhawks (18-10 overall, 2-4 Big 12) pounded out 15 hits - including three each by Allman and Ritchie Price. "We have great respect for them, but at the same time we play in the greatest conference in America. Every weekend we play a top 20 team.
"It's exciting to play against them. A lot of these guys have grown up playing against those guys or been on the same elite summer teams. It's a game the players really enjoy."
Unless you are a member of the Shockers lately when it comes to traveling to Lawrence.
Before Wednesday's game WSU coach Gene Stephenson has seen his club lose two of its last three contests in Lawrence by a 13-6 margin.
"We didn't produce offensively," Stephenson said. "I mean we've scored 12 runs in the last five games. Another weak, enemic offensive night. More of the same. We were never in the game after we couldn't pitch and keep things under control.
"Once we started giving up runs, and letting fly balls drop, and throwing to wrong bases. Down by six runs seems like 60 right now."
Wichita State started the scoring in the first, but KU answered with two in the bottom half of the inning.
The Shockers tied things briefly in the third, but the Jayhawks blew the game open with five runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
"It's fun to play them. There's always a good crowd, there's always been that rivalry with KU and Wichita. It's a special night when you come out and play against that team," said Allman, backing off his initial comments a bit.
After all, KU not only faces the Shockers in a week, but still has a ranked Kansas State squad that might have something to say about that "state's best" comment.
Wichita State started the scoring when Kenny Waddell, who led off the game with a walk, came in from third on KU pitcher Brendan McNamara's throwing error to first.
Waddell advanced to second when Shocker Josh Workman struckout, and the WSU centerfielder moved to third when Damon Sublett slapped a single to right field.
The Shockers ended the inning with one run on one hit and one error. WSU also left one runner on base.
Kansas led off the bottom of the inning with back-to-back singles from Brock Simpson and Ritchie Price. Jared Schweitzer walked on an 11-pitch at bat. The Jayhawks' leading hitter Gus Milner, tied the game at one-all on a groundout double-play. Erick Morrison gave the Jayhawks a 2-1 lead when he laced a double down the left-field line that touched just inside of the chalk and scored Price for the early KU advantage.
Preston Land walked but John Allman popped out to second.
Kansas scored two runs on three hits, while leaving two Jayhawks on base.
Tonight's attendance of 2,324 is the largest ever for KU's Hoglund Ballpark, which is in its 19th season.
After two quick outs, Wichita State's Brandon Hall singled to left. WSU had no runs, one hit, no errors, and one left on base in the top of the second.
After Buck Afenir got out, Kyle Murphy walked. Brock Simpson looked like he might beat out an infield single, but WSU second baseman Damon Sublett made a nice play deep in the hole to record the out. Ritchie Price flew out to end the inning.
Kenny Waddell left off the third with a hard hit up the middle. The senior from Derby, Kan. stole second. Josh Workman followed Waddell's action with the same scenario, singling and stealing second.
Damon Sublett walked, but Derek Schermerhorn scored Wadell to tie the contest when he hit into a double play. Ritchie Price, who missed a leaping grab earlier in the inning, ended the top of the third when he snagged a shot from Tyler Hill. Wichita State had one run on two hits, no errors, and one left on base.
KU switched pitchers heading into the top of the fourth, switching McNamara for Andy Marks, who is 1-1 with a 4.63 ERA.
WSU's Matt Brown struck out before Conor Gillaspie singled to right. Brandon Hall popped out on a high-flying foul ball that KU first baseman John Allman tracked down near home plate. It appeared Gillaspie was going to be tossed out when he got caught in a rundown, but Allman threw wide to second base. Brian Spear struck out to end the inning.
Much like KU, Wichita State switched pitchers in the fourth as well when Max Hutson went to the bench in favor of Jared Simon.
Preston Land plastered a shot to left field that looked to be leaving Hoglund Ballpark in a hurry. Instead the blast bounced off the top of the wall and Land walked into second with a double. John Allman followed with a strikeout. Land advanced to third on a wild pitch by Simon. Buck Afenir then scored Land with a single between WSU's first and second basemen to give KU a 3-2 lead.
Kyle Murphy dropped down a good-looking sac-bunt that advanced Afenir to second. Murphy was out by a step at first. Afenir looked like he was in touble when he took off early, but slid into third. Kansas finished the inning with one run on two hits, while leaving one man on base.
Damon Sublett walked for WSU in the fifth, but the Shockers ended the inning with two straight outs.
Ritchie Price opened the bottom of the inning with a single up the middle. Price moved to second on a wild pitch, then moved to third when Jared Schweitzer's fly ball dropped between WSU outfielders Kenny Waddell and Matt Brown.
The Shockers switched pitchers again, bringing in Kyle Touchatt.
It didn't matter though, because Gus Milner dropped in a blooping single to center to score Price and give the Jayhawks a 4-2 advantage. A deep drive by Erik Morrison advanced both Schweitzer and Milner. Preston Land walked. John Allman opened things up even more for KU when he plated both Schweitzer and Milner with a hard shot up the middle that made the score 6-2.
Dylan Parzyk flied out. Kyle Murphy walked, but Brock Simpson ended the inning with the bases loaded on a flyout to centerfield. KU scored three runs on four hits.
WSU's Matt Brown singled to left and stole second. Brandon Hall walked with two outs, but Brian Spear grounded out to the pitcher.
Ritchie Price led off the sixth with a single. Jared Schweitzer flew out to center. Milner grounded out to third. Erik Morrison doubled over the head of WSU's Tyler Hill to score Price and give KU a 7-2 advantage.
Preston Land singled. So too did John Allman, which brought in Morrison. A close play and a fielder's choice loaded the bases, but WSU got out of the inning when Kyle Murphy gounded out.
KU added two more runs on four hits, but left the bases loaded.
The Shockers started the seventh with Kenny Waddell walking. WSU pinch hitter Blake Hurlbutt came into bat, while KU brought in reliever Ryotaro Hayakawa. Waddell was gunned out trying to steal second. Hurlbutt followed with a walk. Damon Sublett flew out to left, while Derek Schermerhorn single to right. But Tyler Hall flew out to end the inning.
A walk by Jared Schweitzer was the only offensive highlight for the Jayhawks in the bottom of the seventh.
Besides a double by Conor Gillaspie, the Shockers were retired in order in the top of the eight.
Much like WSU in the top of the eight, KU just had one hit, a double by John Allman, in the bottom half of the inning.
Kenny Waddell flew out to start WSU's ninth, and Blake Hurlbutt and Damon Sublett followed with groundouts to end the game.
The two teams haven't tangled on the basketball court in years, but Kansas and Wichita State are no strangers on the baseball diamond. The two squads will meet once again in their annual rivalry with a 7 p.m. start tonight at Hoglund Ballpark.
"It's one of the greatest crowds of the year," KU coach Ritch Price said. "My first year here, there were like 1,800 people here when there were 200 the previous game. That was an indicator to me what a great rivalry this is."
KU junior right-hander Brendan McNamara (0-0, 3.86 earned-run average), a junior-college transfer, will make his first start of the season for the Jayhawks (17-10 overall, 2-4 Big 12). He'll face Max Hutson, a sophomore left-hander who is 3-0 and boasts a 3.06 ERA for the 13th-ranked Shockers (21-5).
Hutson may want to pitch around KU senior Gus Milner. The Jayhawks' right fielder leads the club with a .370 batting average. Against WSU, he is a .438 hitter with three home runs and nine RBIs in four games.
Sophomore Damon Sublett leads the Shockers with a .435 average and five home runs. As a team, WSU is batting .323 and has scored 188 runs.
The Jayhawks haven't played at Hoglund since March 8, but will play nine of its next 10 games at home.
Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson, in his 29th season at the school, briefly accepted the baseball coaching job at Oklahoma last summer before deciding to stay.
"I have great respect for what he's done at Wichita," Price said. "He's the first cold-weather team to become a national power."
KU will meet the Shockers at 7 p.m. a week from today at Eck Stadium in Wichita. Before that, though, the Jayhawks will play host to Missouri in a three-game weekend series.