Needing every victory it can muster, The Kansas University baseball team could find this weekend's nonconference Jayhawk Classic holds the same importance as a Big 12 Conference series.
With that in mind, KU added a game to the weekend slate. Originally scheduled to play three games this weekend, the Jayhawks instead are playing four at Hoglund Ballpark: Two against Bradley (7 p.m. today and 1 p.m. Saturday) and two against Northern Colorado (7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday).
The second Bradley showdown was improvised. The Jayhawks had a game to spare on their schedule after Wednesday's contest at Missouri State was rained out.
"We're chasing that 40-win mark," KU coach Ritch Price said. "They call it the magical number. We have a chance to take care of business and get close to that number by the Big 12 tournament."
At 33-21 playing a brutal schedule, KU has a strong NCAA Tournament resume but still is far from being a lock. To strengthen their argument even more, the Jayhawks need as many chances as they can get to increase their win total.
Now, seven games are left in the regular season, and KU will have at least two more in the Big 12 tournament. Though it hasn't clinched a berth in the Big 12 tourney yet, it'd take a big collapse and a lot of unwanted help from other teams to not make it.
Anticipating an invitation, Price has begun tinkering with his attack. With the Big 12 tournament starting on a Wednesday, staff ace Kodiak Quick will pitch tonight and again next Friday against Texas A&M. That will give him enough rest to go on May 24 in the Big 12 tournament opener if the Jayhawks make it.
In addition, Sean Land will pitch the first game Saturday, with Nick Czyz going in the nightcap against Northern Colorado. Ricky Fairchild will throw Sunday's weekend wrapup.
Another new tweak concerns sophomore Ryne Price. A second baseman his entire college career, Price will be the starting catcher tonight - a way to get him, first baseman Preston Land, second baseman Jared Schweitzer and designated hitter Brock Simpson in the lineup at the same time.
Price has missed much of the season because of a wrist injury and still isn't 100 percent swinging the bat. He can play defense with minimal pain, though, and will catch for the first time since his days at Free State High.
Bradley stands 22-24 on the season, while Northern Colorado has struggled to a 15-29 record. All three teams in this weekend's contests are mired in losing streaks, including a four-game slide by KU that got ugly in a three-game sweep at No. 7 Texas last weekend.
This weekend's games could be a big step toward the NCAA Tournament - but they could be even bigger for KU's confidence.
"I hope so," Ritch Price said. "One of things we've done is played an incredible road schedule. That was the first time we hit a bump in a road and were taken over."