By Daniel Hill
The No. 8 Oklahoma Sooners head to Waco for a three-game weekend series against the Baylor Bears. The Bears are 17-16 overall and are 5-3 in conference play. The Sooners, on the other hand, are 27-6 on the year and have posted a 7-2 record in Big 12 play.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a big series,” junior right-handed pitcher Dillon Newman said. “I think this weekend we definitely are going to treat it like it’s postseason and do everything we can to win this series and put some pressure on them and give our team a little boost.”
After a slow start to the season, the Bears have won six of their last eight games and have found their stride in Big 12 play.
“I think up and down, guys are hitting,” senior right fielder Nathan Orf said. “There’s no real hole anymore and guys are putting together better at-bats at key moments and getting the key hit. We had so many chances early on in the year where a key hit would have won us the game and didn’t get it, and now we are starting to get the bases loaded double or the single to score two. Just getting that momentum and hits are contagious.”
Baylor is currently third in the Big 12 standings at 5-3 and the Sooners are in sole possession of first place at 7-2.
“Every series in the Big 12 is a big series,” head coach Steve Smith said. “You don’t play that many of them, and places in standings and all that sort of stuff turns every which way it can all throughout the year. We’ll have our hands full. OU is a very talented team, particularly on the mound.”
Last season, the Bears easily won the Big 12 regular season title, but they have a chip on their shoulder because Oklahoma performed well against Baylor last season.
“They beat us five times last year,” Newman said. “I think that sticks in the back of everybody’s mind and this weekend we just really want to go out there and get it done.”
Newman will be the starting pitcher tonight and senior right-handed pitcher Max Garner will take the mound on Saturday.
Sophomore right-handed pitcher Austin Stone is slated to start on Sunday, but that could change depending on if Stone’s arm is needed for either of the first two games.
For Newman, having the opportunity to be the game one starter and set the tone for the series is a challenge he gladly accepts for the team.
“For me, it’s huge. I care more about my team than I do myself,” Newman said. “As long as at the end of the day the team gets the ‘W’ then that’s all that I really care about. I think it’s huge, you know. If I can start my team off to a good start then that’s all that I really care about.”
At the plate, Orf leads the Bears in batting average at .421.
Orf has 20 RBIs and has scored 22 runs with a .513 on-base percentage.
“They are a great club and they had our number last year, so for us, it’s about going out and playing our game,” Orf said. “We’re going to be the underdogs you know, and for the team we have this year, I don’t think that’s a bad place to be at all. No matter what the score is, I think we are going to go to work and keep fighting for 27 outs. They have some good starters but they are going to have to beat us for 27 outs so I like our chances to get some wins this weekend.”
The Sooners are in first place in the Big 12 and ranked No. 9 in the nation according to Baseball America, but the Bears are not intimidated.
“We’ve played too many good teams to be intimidated,” Smith said. “We’ve faced this before and it’s one of those weekend’s where we’ll face it again. We play such a good schedule that we kind of handle that OK.”
Oklahoma’s strength is undoubtedly on the pitchers’ mound. The Sooners boast two 2013 preseason All-American pitchers.
The Bears will face a pair of the best starting pitchers in the nation in Oklahoma junior right-handed pitcher Jonathan Gray and junior lefty Dillon Overton.
“They have big arms, hard throwers with good off speed,” Orf said. “They can really pitch and it’s going to be a grind for us offensively, but they have to get us out 27 times and if we can get a guy on and grind out some at-bats and get some runs then we’ll be fine. They had great arms last year too. They had really good match-ups out of the bullpen and we played them tough and never really got the win. We never got the key hit to win the game. I just think that if we continue to play our game then hopefully we’ll get some wins this weekend.”