Last season, the Kansas University baseball team’s objective was to put a bit of swagger back into the program.
Having done that — and then some — during a surprisingly successful 2009 campaign, the team’s challenge now will be to maintain it.
“I know our players are proud with what they accomplished (last spring),” said coach Ritch Price. “But like I told our players, it’s harder to sustain the success than to get there the first time. And that’s what we're looking to do.”
Despite the spike in expectations, however, there are lots of reasons for Price to smile heading into the 2010 season. There’s the 39-24 record his team put together last season. There’s the 25-3 record at home, the series sweep of then-No. 1 Texas and the fact that, heading into next spring, the Jayhawks welcome back the bulk of their roster.
The biggest reason, however, might very well be the return of junior third baseman Tony Thompson, the conference’s top offensive player last spring.
During a breakout sophomore season, the Reno, Nev., native won the conference’s Triple Crown, finishing the season as the Big 12 leader in batting average (.389), home runs (21) and RBIs (82), and, for good measure, added first-place tallies in hits (96), doubles (27) and total bases (186).
“To win the Triple Crown in a conference as good as the Big 12 is an amazing feat,” said Price. “It’s one of the most amazing accomplishments I’ve ever seen in my career.”
And while two players left KU early after being selected in June’s Major League Baseball Amateur Draft — Friday night starter Shaeffer Hall and shortstop and Big 12 Newcomer of the Year David Narodowski — the Jayhawks return a lineup that should look quite similar to last season’s.
Outfielder Brian Heere, a second-team all-Big 12 selection last season, is back, and so is all-conference honorable mention second baseman Robby Price. The two batted .364 and .296, respectively, in ’09.
Much like last season, however, the team’s strength could very well be its pitching.
Junior right-hander T.J. Walz, fresh off a summer spent with the U.S. National Collegiate Team, returns as the staff ace, while sophomore Lee Ridenhour will look to build upon his success last season, when he finished 6-3 with a 4.65 earned-run average. The return of left-hander Wally Marciel, who missed last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, should also help fill the hole left by Hall.
And all that has Price feeling pretty good heading into his eighth season as head of the program.
“I really like our club,” he said. “If we continue to work hard and stay healthy and grind it out, I think this could be the best club we’ve had since I’ve been at Kansas.”