The buzz around this weekend's Kansas-Missouri baseball Border Showdown was Tiger pitcher Max Scherzer, an All-American who is being considered as the possible No. 1 choice overall for the Kansas City Royals in the 2006 draft.
But after Friday's 3-0 MU win at Hoglund Ballpark it was clear that the Jayhawks didn't want to overlook series starter Nathan Culp.
The Tigers' junior lefthander threw a three-hit, complete-game shutout. Through seven and two-thirds innings Culp faced the mininum number of Jayhawks.
By the time the Jayhawks (18-11 overall, 2-5 Big 12) did gain their first multihit inning in their Big 12 home opener, it was too late.
"It was a rough night at the plate for everyone," said KU's John Allman, who after proclaiming the Jayhawks were the "best team in the state" after KU's 8-2 win over the Shockers on Wednesday, was quite subdued after Friday's loss.
"We just didn't clutch up and get guys on to give somebody a chance," he said.
Allman did his part with two of those hits, but Kansas put only five baserunners on the paths.
KU coach Ritch Price credited that fact to Culp.
"He did an outstanding job of using all three pitches for strikes," Price said of Culp, who had five strikeouts. "We've been lucky enough to beat him the last two years we've faced him. Tonight's the best I've seen him. The most sharp I've seen him with his fastball and his command was really good."
Price said he was more than pleased with his starter Sean Land, who had been shaky in his last two Big 12 starts. Land threw five and two-thirds and gave up four hits - the biggest one being a deep two-run homer to left by MU's Trevor Helms.
"A little shaky second inning, but besides that I got into trouble and got myself out of trouble," said Land, who fell to 4-5 on the season. "That definitely gives me a little more confidence, I had to get one (a quality start) pretty soon here."
Mizzou added a run in the top of the eight and KU got back-to-back hits from Preston Land and Allman in the bottom half of the inning. KU pinch hitter Matt Berner hit a shot deep to the wall in centerfield, but the ball was caught ending KU's only threat.
The Jayhawks and Tigers will take the field for Game No. 2 of the Border Showdown tomorrow. If Kansas wants to win the series, it will have to do so against the arm of MU ace Scherzer.
"We just got to keep coming out everyday and playing against the ball and doing what we can at the plate," Allman said. "We got to take it one game at a time, not worry whose on the mound, or whose in the other dugout."
Missouri lead-off hitter Evan Frey flew out to left to start the game. Zane Taylor followed with a fly out to center. KU starter Sean Land struck out Brock Bond to end the inning.
Kansas lead-off hitter Brock Simpson struck out to start the Jayhawks half of the first. Ritchie Price hit a hard shot at MU third baseman Brock Bond. But after initially bobblng the ball, Bond kept it in his glove to record the out. Jared Schweitzer flew out to right to end the first.
Jacob Priday grounded out to third to start the second for Tigers. Derek Chambers walked before MU got the scoring started with a deep two-run homer to left by Trevor Helms. Hunter Mense laid down a great bunt between KU pitcher Sean Land and second baseman Jared Schweitzer. J.C. Field flew out to record the second out. Mense stole second, before Gary Arndt grounded out. The Tigers scored two runs, on two hits and left one on base.
The Jayhawks went down 1-2-3 in the second. Erik Morrison blasted a ball to left, but it was caught at the warning track.
MU's Evan Frey recorded the Tigers' second hit off a bunt Friday to start the third inning. Zane Taylor popped out and Brock Bond hit into a force out. Sean Land balked to advance Frey to first. Mizzou's Jacob Priday hit a long ball that looked like it might clear the fence in left field, but John Allman hauled it in for the third out.
John Allman opened the bottom of the inning with a single to right. Dylan Parzyk proceeded to hit into a double a 4-6-3 double play and Kyle Murphy flew out to right.
MU's Derek Chambers fouled out to third, while Trevor Helms walked then advanced to second on another balk by Land. A deep fly by Hunter Mense moved Helms to third. Land then struck out J.C. Field to end the threat.
Brock Simpson got on when he was plunked by MU starter Nathan Culp. Ritchie Price flew out to right and Jared Schweitzer hit a hopper to MU shortstop Gary Arndt for an ending-inning double-play.
Land struck out two as the Tigers went down in order in the fifth.
Milner grounded out to third in the bottom of the fifth. Erik Morrison struck out and Preston Land flew out to right.
Brock Bond hit an infield single then advanced to second on a wild pitch. Jacob Priday flew out to deep center, moving Bond to third. Preston Land couldn't catch a ball in foul territory, but Land struck out Derek Chambers for the second out. KU brought in Paul Smyth to pitch for Sean Land. Smyth struck out Trevor Helms to end the sixth without a score.
John Allman, Dylan Parzyk, and Kyle Murphy went down in order in the bottom half of the six.
Paul Smyth struck out two Tigers in the top of the seventh.
The Jayhawks, who have only one hit Friday night, again were retired in order in the bottom of the seventh.
Evan Frey led off the eight with a single but was retired on a 1-3-6-1-4 rundown. MU's Zane Taylor also singled to right and moved to second on KU's third called balk of the night. Brock Bond struck out, but Derek Priday's single to center scored Taylor for the 3-0 lead. Derek Chambers flew out to right. The Tigers added the their third run on three hits, while stranding one Tiger.
With two outs, Preston Land singled to center and John Allman followed with a line-drive to left. Pinch-hitter Matt Berner made things interesting for a brief moment with a long fly out to center, but KU ended its most productive inning at the plate with nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.
Missouri went down in order in the top of the ninth, leaving the Jayhawks one last opportunity for a rally.
After Kyle Murphy flew out to center to lead off the inning, Brock Simpson walked. Ritchie Price struck out for the second out. Jared Schweitzer ended the game with a called strike three.
Kansas University's baseball team has played 10 consecutive games against ranked teams, and the Jayhawks will get another one tonight when No. 29 Missouri comes to Lawrence for a three-game series.
The Tigers (15-9 overall, 5-1 Big 12) also offer the second-straight rivalry game for a KU squad (18-10 overall, 2-4 Big 12) that defeated No. 17 Wichita State 8-2 at Hoglund Ballpark on Wednesday.
"I told our players that we've played the toughest road schedule in America," said KU coach Ritch Price, of the Jayhawks who prior to the WSU game had played nine straight on the road. "And if we can win the next two series at home, we'll be .500 in our league and have everything the rest of the season to play for."
Junior Sean Land, a native of Greenwood, Mo., will attempt to set the tone for the Jayhawks, getting the start in today's 6 p.m. opener at Hoglund Ballpark.
"It's going to be important that he gets himself on track," Price said, "and gets us deep into the game."
After posting a 2.80 earned-run average in his first six outings, the junior has hit something of a wall in conference play. Land managed just 31â3 combined innings in his last two starts against Baylor and Nebraska, allowing 11 hits and 10 earned runs.
The first game particularly could be important for Kansas if it hopes to win its first league series. That's because All-American pitcher Max Scherzer - who is being considered as the possible No. 1 choice overall for the Kansas City Royals in the 2006 draft - will take the mound for Missouri in Saturday's Game Two. In 25 innings this season, the junior has recorded 31 strikeouts.
The Jayhawks will counter with Ricky Fairchild on Saturday and Kodiak Quick on Sunday - a pair with whom Price feels confident.
"Fairchild's been outstanding, and Kodiak Quick's as good as anybody in the Big 12," Price said. "If we can get into the seventh inning with those guys, we have a chance to win every series we play."
The Tigers enter the weekend on top of the Big 12 standings with a 5-1 record. MU dropped to 15-9 overall after losing to Southeast Missouri State via a walkoff home run on Wednesday night. After sweeping Texas A&M to open its Big 12 slate, Missouri took two or three games from Kansas State last weekend.
Sophomore Evan Frey (.421) and senior Zane Taylor (.402) lead a Missouri team that is hitting .292 on the year. Catcher Jacob Priday leads the Tigers with three homers and 26 RBI. MU's pitching staff is led by junior all-american Max Scherzer. Scherzer has started four games this season and compiled a 3-1 record while striking out 31 batters in 25 innings. Senior Taylor Parker has come out of the bullpen to save five games this season with a 1.17 ERA.