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Archive for Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Woodling: Similarities end with seedings

May 23, 2006

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Those enamored with the inexplicable happenstance often associated with coincidence should be heartened about Kansas University baseball.

A couple of weeks ago, KU's softball team went into the Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City as the No. 6 seed and emerged as the tourney champion.

Now the Jayhawks' baseball team is headed for the conference tournament, also as the sixth seed and also in Oklahoma's capital city.

That leaves us to wonder if lightning can strike twice. Can KU's baseball team emulate the softball team and win four games in a row?

KU's softballers were, in retrospect, well equipped to win a short series because coach Tracy Bunge had two of the three best pitchers in the league in Kassie Humphreys and Serena Settlemier. Also, Bunge's team was solid defensively.

On the flip side, KU baseball boss Ritch Price has only one mound ace, and Don Czyz is a relief pitcher, not a starter. Czyz leads the NCAA with 17 saves. Meanwhile, Price's three starters are above average to average.

Kodiak Quick is the staff ace. The senior right-hander has a 10-4 won-lost record with an impressive 3.29 earned-run average, mostly because he keeps the ball in the park. Opponents are hitting .298 against him, but he has given up just six home runs in 98-plus innings - a notable stat against the aluminum bat.

Meanwhile, foes are hitting nearly .300 against Ricky Fairchild, too, but this senior right-hander (6-6, 5.88) is far and away the team leader both in surrendering gopher balls (14) and hitting batters (13).

Opponents are batting only .257 against Sean Land (5-6, 4.90), and the junior left-hander also has been touched for only six homers, yet Land struggles at times with command.

On paper, the KU trio of starting pitchers will have a difficult time against a gauntlet of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Missouri in pool play. Still, all three KU pitchers are capable.

Another potential problem is the draw. It's no bargain having to play Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in Bricktown Ballpark. Thanks to geography, the Sooners and Cowboys will draw the largest crowds, and the Jayhawks were much better at home against league foes (9-4) than they were on the road (4-10).

You can't sugarcoat the fact, either, that defense isn't a Kansas strong suit. The Jayhawks lead the league in errors and passed balls. On a positive note, however, senior shortstop Ritchie Price is having a banner season in the field with only seven errors. Last season, he had three times that many.

Nevertheless, the Jayhawks don't have a natural second baseman, and third baseman Erik Morrison may lead the team in home runs with 11, but the second-year man also has twice as many errors as homers.

KU baseball doesn't have a slugger comparable to Settlemier, who hit a school-record 22 home runs, but Price does have more quality hitters than Bunge. Five of his players are batting over .300.

So we'll see what happens later this week. We'll see if May magic will strike a sixth-seeded Kansas team twice.

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