Just two years removed from a Big 12 Conference tournament championship, Kansas University baseball coach Ritch Price is considering his 2008 squad to be quite possibly the "best" team he has fielded at KU.
"We knew we were rebuilding in 2007 after losing seven seniors," said Price about a squad that was 28-30 overall and 9-17 in Big 12 a year after winning the tournament title. "We only played one senior, Kyle Murphy, who had an outstanding year for us, and I was really happy for him when he got drafted and getting a chance to play professionally. But we have everybody else coming back, and we also have the best recruiting class coming in in my five years that I've been at Kansas."
A few of the most significant returnees have to be starting pitchers Wally Marciel, Nick Czyz and Andy Marks, along with closer Paul Smyth.
"It's the first time in the five years that I've been here that all three weekend rotation pitchers are returning," Price said. "We also have Paul Smyth coming back, who was our closer. We knew we were going to be really young last year on the mound. Now we think they're ready to be very, very successful in our league.
"I think when you throw that mix in and Shaeffer Hall, a junior college All-American (second-team pitcher at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Mo.) added to the mix, we might have the best pitching in the five years that I've been here. I think it'll be our best starting rotation, and I think it's the deepest that we've ever been in the bullpen."
Marciel was named to the Freshman All-America Second Team by Ping!Baseball after leading the Jayhawks starting staff in ERA at 3.94 and tied with Marks for the second most wins (5).
Marks was the starting pitcher Price relied on the most, throwing him out to start a team-high 15 games. He logged 891â3 innings with 91 strikeouts - also tops on the team.
While senior Andres Esquibel started just five games, he had the second most appearances behind Smyth and led the team with seven wins.
"In our league, you've got be able to pitch in order to compete," the KU coach said. "In 2006, when we won the Big 12 tournament championship, we were one of the best clubs in our league offensively, but we still struggled on the pitching side of the ball. I think this club has a chance to really pitch and play defense and not have to ask your team to score seven runs a game, which is almost impossible to do."