LAWRENCE, Kan. – The Kansas baseball team opens the 2014 season Friday, Feb. 14 when it faces BYU in the first of a four-game series at the Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, Ariz.
The Jayhawks will battle the Cougars Friday at 2 p.m., play a doubleheader Saturday at 12 p.m., and wrap up the weekend Monday at 12 p.m. All four games in the series can be heard on Jayhawk Digital Passport through KUAthletics.com/Showcase with Sean Kellerman calling the action alongside Travis Blankenship.
Kansas returns 21 letterwinners, including 13 position players and eight pitchers, from a team that finished 34-25 and placed sixth in the regular-season conference standings.
Of those returning, two weekend starters are back in the rotation while six position starters will hold their spots in the Jayhawk lineup.
KU is 72-54-1 all-time in season-openers and 7-4 under head coach Ritch Price.
Junior left-hander Wes Benjamin (4-6, 4.40 ERA) and senior righty Frank Duncan (4-6, 4.20 ERA) return as the top weekend-regulars on the bump, each with almost identical numbers in 2013.
Defending Big 12 Newcomer of the Year senior Jordan Piche' makes his way back to the KU bullpen after recording a league-high 12 saves a year ago with a 1.68 ERA that ranked No. 19 in the nation.
Junior outfielder Michael Suiter is the top returning offensive player from 2013, batting .309 with 29 RBIs, good enough for All-Big 12 Second Team honors.
SERIES HISTORY: The 2014 season opener marks the sixth meeting between the Jayhawks and the Cougars, who hold a 3-2 game lead in the all-time series. Kansas won the first match-up 4-3, March 22, 1968. The two teams wouldn't meet again until the 1994 NCAA Atlantic II Regional, where BYU jumped out to a commanding 5-0 lead in the first three innings, which proved to be the difference maker, as the Jayhawks fell 8-3 and were eliminated from the tournament. It took 19 years for the two teams to meet again, when KU traveled to Provo, Utah, for a three-game series in 2013. The Cougars had an edge with home-field advantage and took two out of three games, with Kansas' only win coming by a score of 15-4. Under head coach Ritch Price, the Jayhawks are 1-2 all-time against BYU, with Price holding a career coaching record of 2-2 against the Cougars.
SCOUTING THE COUGARS: BYU is in its second season under the direction of head coach Mike Littlewood and is coming off a 32-win campaign that landed the Cougars tied for second place in the West Coast Conference (WCC) with a 15-9 mark. Littlewood's team posted five wins over top-25 teams including then-No. 2 LSU, two against No. 21 UC Irvine, No. 22 Gonzaga and No. 13 Arizona State. The team returns 20 lettermen from last season, including four position starters and two members of the starting rotation. Among those returning are Brock Whitney, All-WCC and Hayden Nielsen, All-WCC Freshman selection. Whitney started all 53 games and batted .293 with 12 doubles, three home runs and 35 RBIs, while Nielsen hit .251 with five doubles and 15 RBIs. Desmond Poulson returns as the top hurler on the bump as he posted a 7-2 record last season with a 3.24 ERA, including a nine-inning shutout against the Jayhawks.
AROUND THE HORN:
Kansas is opening its its 124th season of baseball on Friday with an all-time record of 1,775-1,690-17.
The Jayhawks will play their first four games in Peoria, Ariz., marking the second-straight year KU has opened up season play in the state, as they opened the 2013 campaign in Mesa against Nevada.
KU's games are scheduled to be played at the Peoria Sports Complex, the spring training home for the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners.
For the 12th-straight season Kansas will open its season on the road, however this is the fifth time in that span that KU's opening day will be played at a neutral site.
The Jayhawks were 19-12 against non-Big 12 teams last season and are 97-67 against non-conference opponents over the last five years.
In the month of February, Kansas holds a 122-95-1 (.560) all-time record and was 4-3 in the first month of last season.
Senior catcher Ka'iana Eldredge will be making his fourth-straight opening day start and his second-straight behind the dish.
Three other Jayhawks will be making their thrid-straight opening day start. Junior Michael Suiter will make his third-straight start in left field, senior Tucker Tharp will make his third straight-start in the outfield and second-straight in center field, while junior Connor McKay rounds out the trio, starting in right field.
Junior Justin Protacio will make his second-straight opening day start in the infield for KU, this time on the left side at shortstop.
PICHE' IS ONE TO WATCH: After a hot season in 2013, senior closer Jordan Piche' was named to the 2014 NCBWA Preseason Stopper of the Year Watch List. In its 10th year, the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Award is given to the top relief pitcher in NCAA Division I baseball. A total of 50 names appear on the initial watch list, with 17 of them tallying 12 or more saves a year ago, including Piche'. This year's recipient will be announced during the 2014 College World Series.
PRICE ANNOUNCES 2014 CAPTAINS: Kansas head coach Ritch Price announce that seniors Ka'iana Eldredge, Jordan Piche' and Tucker Tharp will serve as the Jayhawks' captains for the 2014 season. All three will be serving as team captain for the first time in their careers.
KANSAS BASEBALL PICKED NINTH: Kansas baseball was predicted to finish ninth in the Big 12 standings with 12 votes by the league's coaches prior to the start of the season. The Jayhawks have a habit of outperforming its preseason prognostications, as last year, KU was picked to finish eighth and finished sixth, while in 2012 Kansas was predicted to finish ninth and placed seventh.
DUNCAN EARNS PRESEASON HONOR: Senior RHP Frank Duncan was named one of the Top 100 senior prospects in college baseball by Perfect Game, checking in at No. 46 on the list which was released Feb. 10. Duncan is returning on the bump in the Jayhawks starting rotation, a position he has held the last two seasons.
UP NEXT: The Jayhawks continue their southern swing and head to Port Charlotte, Fla., for the Snowbird Classic Feb. 21-24. Kansas is slated to face-off against Northwestern, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Mississippi Valley State and St. Bonaventure, before returning home to host the Salty Iguana Classic Feb. 28-March 2.