By Max Calderone | Sports Writer
Coming off of a series loss to Kansas at home, the Baylor baseball team is looking to rebound this weekend against Oklahoma.
The Bears will travel up to Norman, Okla., for a three-game set against the Sooners, spanning from Thursday to Saturday, earlier than a typical Friday through Sunday series because of the Easter holiday.
Baylor (13-9, 3-3) has a tough test in facing one of the Big 12 Conference’s best pitching staffs. Oklahoma (17-10, 3-0) is led on the mound by senior Devon Perez and junior Jake Irvin, who have a combined 7-0 record in 12 appearances. The Sooners lead the conference in pitching strikeouts with 275, well above Texas Tech’s second-place mark of 240.
Baylor head coach Steve Rodriguez said his team will need to do well offensively in order to put up runs against a talented Oklahoma rotation.
“Their starting pitching is very good,” Rodriguez said. “They have some great returners back. We’ve got to go out there and pound the zone, command our at-bats really well.”
Rodriguez said he has been impressed with the way his team is swinging the bat and feels like that will carry over into the series with OU.
“I’m really happy with how well we’re seeing the ball,” Rodriguez said. “If you look at our strikeouts to walks ratio, I’m really excited about that. I think if our guys go out and play the way we can play, it’ll give us three good baseball games with a chance to win at the end.”
The Bears have struck out just 138 times so far this season and have worked 95 walks, compared to the Sooners who have struck out 205 times. The lineup has gotten strong contributions from sophomore first baseman Andy Thomas who is hitting .400 through 22 games and freshman utility man Nick Loftin who was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week after going 8-for-17 in Baylor’s last four games, including hitting his first two career home runs.
Loftin said he was happy to earn the award, but is staying focused on the upcoming games with Oklahoma.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” Loftin said. “I’ve just been working hard, really hard for it and getting ready for OU this week.”
Sophomore catcher Shea Langeliers blasted two home runs in two of Baylor’s last three games and currently leads the team with five total home runs. Junior second baseman Josh Bissonette is close behind with four, having already doubled his career total.
Rodriguez said Bissonette has come back nicely from an injury in the fall that caused him to miss much of the team’s strength and conditioning workouts.
“Being able to maintain some health and get in to the weight room allowed the strength he was able to gain to play into his ability,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what I really like seeing out of him lately is that strength is slowly starting to get into his ability and we’re getting to see more home runs.”
The Bears will make one change to the weekend rotation, adding sophomore right-handed pitcher Jacob Ashkinos (0-1, 3.68) to start the third game of the series. Sophomore lefty Cody Bradford (3-2, 2.95) will take game one and sophomore right-hander Hayden Kettler (3-2, 2.72) will follow in game two.
Ashkinos has made nine appearances this season, including two starts in mid-week games. He said after pitching against strong competition and developing since the start of the season, he feels prepared to take on a larger role as a starter.
“I don’t think I could have done this at the beginning of the year. I don’t think that I was ready,” Ashkinos said. “But facing Texas Tech, facing Kansas, going through the ups and downs, I’m really ready for this.”
Game one between Baylor and Oklahoma is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on today, with first pitch coming in game two at 6:30 p.m. Friday and game three starting at 4 p.m. Saturday.