OKLAHOMA CITY Don Czyz may lead the NCAA in saves, but Kansas University's savior was Kodiak Quick.
During the last weekend in April, Quick came to the rescue after KU's baseball team had dropped back-to-back games to Oklahoma and was in danger of being swept.
Quick, a senior right-hander, pitched six solid innings as the Jayhawks salvaged the final game of the series, 7-5.
"As far as I'm concerned," KU coach Ritch Price said at the time, "it saved our season. That was a huge game for us."
Now the Jayhawks will face the Sooners again in the first-round of the Big 12 Tournament at 5 p.m. today at Bricktown Ballpark, and Price's choice to start on the mound is no surprise.
"Kody beat them before," Price said, "and winning that first game is so important."
Under the new format, the only way to be assured of reaching Sunday's championship game is to go 3-0 in pool play. A first-game loss wouldn't be devastating, but losing would ratchet the pressure quotient for the last two contests.
KU's other two pool tests will be against Oklahoma State on Friday and Missouri on Saturday, both at 8 p.m.
This is just the third time KU has qualified for the Big 12 Tournament. The Jayhawks made two-and-out appearances in 2003 and 2005 when the tourney was operated in a double-elimination mode.
In other words, Kansas has never won a Big 12 Tournament game.
"I wasn't aware of that," said first baseman Jared Schweitzer, the Jayhawks' leading hitter with a .351 average. "I hope we'll be able to change that."
The new standardized format certainly takes away a lot of the uncertainty.
"We know we'll be there until Saturday, at least," senior shortstop Ritchie Price said, "and we know we'll get to use all three of our starters, just like during the regular season."
Price, oldest son of the head coach, already owns five school career records - games (248), hits (305), at-bats (990), sacrifices (34) and hit by pitch (52) - but he has a goose egg in another category.
"I've never won a game in Bricktown," he said.
The Jayhawks can end that whammy if they receive solid starting pitching from Quick (10-4, 3.29 ERA), Sean Land (5-6, 4.90 ERA) and Ricky Fairchild (6-6, 5.88 ERA) and if Czyz continues to shut the door.
A senior right-hander, Czyz leads the nation with 17 saves. His ERA is a glossy 1.62 and the Blue Valley High product has fanned 53 batters in 55 2/3 innings.
Notably, however, Czyz had one of his worst outings in that 7-5 win over Oklahoma.
After holding the Sooners scoreless through six innings, Quick tired in the seventh and gave up back-to-back home runs to Jackson Williams and Joe Dunigan. Paul Smyth came in to record the final two outs of the inning.
Then, with a 7-2 lead, Price gave the ball to Czyz in the eighth. Czyz earned the save, but not before surrendering a solo homer to Ryan Rohlinger in the eighth and a two-run shot to Chuckie Caulfield in the ninth - the only round-trippers he has given up all season.
Notes: KU's tie for fifth in the conference standings was its highest finish in the 10 years of Big 12 baseball : The Jayhawks were 8-13 against the seven other clubs that qualified for the league tournament and 4-5 against teams in its pool. : Quick was 6-0 with a 2.27 ERA in Hoglund Ballpark.