By Daniel Hill
Baylor baseball hosts the highly ranked UCLA Bruins in a three game series this weekend. With a 1-3 record, Baylor is hoping to find its stride against UCLA on today, Saturday and Sunday.
The Bears started the season in California with a three-game series against an experienced UC Irvine squad. The Bears dropped all three of their games to UC Irvine but bounced back by defeating Texas State 6-3 at Baylor Ballpark on Tuesday night.
“You know I think it was good just to get back home first off,” Baylor assistant coach Trevor Mote said. “It was a rough series out at Irvine, quality opponent, very veteran squad. I think there were some good things. We have a lot of new guys out there and being able to go out to California and play in 80 degree weather on a great surface, probably against a team that potentially will be there at the end, was a chance to kind of let us know where we were. It got a little sloppy the other night on the mound and defensively but we found a way to win. That’s a good trait for a young team.”
Today, senior right-hander Max Garner will be the starting pitcher and on Saturday, righty Dillon Newman will take the mound. Sunday’s starting pitcher is still to be determined.
“In all four games really, we were probably just trying to do too much and to be too good realistically and not pounding the zone consistently enough,” Mote said. “I trust their stuff but at the end of the day, the offense that we faced at Irvine presented a bunch of challenges. They looked like they were in midseason form and a couple of games there were good. The other night against Texas State it was just good to find a way to get it done.”
Now the Bears have an opportunity to play another California team at home in the UCLA Bruins. The Bruins have a prestigious baseball program and are ranked highly by numerous media outlets. According to Baseball America, the Bruins are the No. 12 team in the nation. The Collegiate Baseball and the NCBWA rankings both place UCLA at No. 6 in the country.
Both Baylor and UCLA are ranked in the preseason USA Today Coaches poll. Baylor comes in at No. 23 and UCLA is No. 2.
“(UCLA) is very similar to Irvine, maybe not as senior oriented,” Mote said. “On the mound, very junior oriented, very talented guys. You know guys that have a pedigree and have been to the World Series a year ago so we’ll have our work cut out for us.”
Senior right fielder Nathan Orf is off to a hot start at the plate for the Bears with a .500 season average. Through four games this season, Orf has nine hits in 18 at-bats with five RBI’s.
“I’ve been trying to come out and have fun in BP, have a lot of fun in pregame and enjoy being around the guys and just enjoy playing the game,” Orf said. “If I strike out or get a hit, I’m trying to not let it impact the amount of joy that I’m getting from the game so I really think just trying to stay more level emotionally and mentally has helped a ton.”
Orf originally played catcher early in his baseball career but has made the transition to outfield for the Bears.
“I’m much more comfortable out there,” Orf said. “Last year was the first time I ever worked on it at all. I had a big learning curve I guess and a lot of mistakes but I’ve had time in the last year or so to find cues and just things to be more comfortable when I start out there in right.”
Early in the season, it’s valuable for the Bears to face stiff competition early in the season like UCLA to prepare themselves for the rigors of the Big 12 Conference.
“We expect to see a good team,” senior third basemen Cal Towey said. “I’m sure they can hit and play defense. I’ve heard that they have really good pitchers and stuff like that, probably similar to last years team. I think it’s really fun to go play tough competition rather than going and playing some teams that you know you’re going to kind of roll over. It’s a lot more fun to face the cream of the crop and just go at it.”
After facing UC Irvine last weekend, the Bears feel like they are well prepared for UCLA this weekend since the two are so similar in style, especially in utilizing off-speed pitches early in the count.
“I think they’re going to be a little like Irvine just in the way that they pitch and play the game,” Orf said. “They have thrown a lot of off-speed early in the count, the same kind of stuff that we saw last week. Seeing that last weekend will help us a lot. The preparation and the execution will go a long way for us.”
One key aspect of Baylor’s baseball team is the idea of just taking the game one pitch at a time and not getting too far ahead of the process.
“We try to win each pitch really. In trying to do that and the trials that you’re going to go through, you just have to learn as much as you can, especially early on. I think if we win each pitch and have that mentality to compete each pitch and do learn each game by game for the year then we are going to be quite a tough team to play against.”