Pitching reliability key as Baylor battles Texas

No. 18 sophomore Cal Towey rounds third base in a March 29 game against University of Texas-San Antonio at Baylor Ballpark. Baylor faces Texas this weekend, today and Saturday in Waco and Sunday in Austin.
Matt Hellman | Lariat Photographer

By Matt Larsen
Sports Writer

With a pitching staff still searching for consistency, Baylor baseball plays host to the No. 8 University of Texas today and Saturday before finishing up the three-game series Sunday in Austin.

“I think we know that we’re better than we have been playing right now,” sophomore right-hander Josh Turley said. “We’d like to show that to everybody else. I think we will play our best ball this weekend. I think we’ve got a little more at stake.”

On Tuesday, Turley and company watched a 2-0 lead fall in the eighth inning and then a walk-off single seal the 3-2 road loss at midweek non-conference foe Sam Houston State.

“We’re throwing a lot of strikes, but it really surprises me the number of hits we’re giving up given the changes,” head coach Steve Smith said, referencing the new rules this year that require bats to behave more like wood. “Some of our other numbers aren’t bad. We’re not walking an inordinate amount.”

The Bears (17-13, 4-5) look to redirect both an overall and conference season that has gotten off track a bit.

Baylor has won just one of the three conference series it has played thus far. All three of the series were against teams with the same or worse records in conference play.

Baylor pulled out two one-run wins over Kansas State (2-7) in Waco, but dropped two of three against Texas Tech (4-5) and Kansas (4-5).

Baylor’s own 4-5 mark in Big 12 play and its overall record nearing .500 was enough to drop them this past week from the Baseball America’s top 25 rankings, where it previously sat at No. 19.

“Hungrier for sure,” junior Brooks Pinckard said of the feeling stemming from the past few games.

Early April won’t be an easy time for the Bears to infuse a streak of wins into their season as this weekend brings the second-highest ranked Big 12 opponent to the plate at Baylor Ballpark while next weekend features the toughest: No. 6 Texas A&M.

The Longhorns return most of the pitching staff that carried them to an NCAA Super Regional in 2010.

The 2011 edition features two pitchers with ERAs below 1.00 and six with averages under 3.00.

What impresses Smith even more is the number of walks that seem few and far between.

“They are not walking many guys period as a staff,” Smith said.

The 6:30 p.m. matchup today pits junior Logan Verrett (3-2) against junior Taylor Jungmann (6-0).

Verrett carries a 3.53 ERA into today’s contest while Jungmann brings a 0.94 ERA.

“I think the kind of year Taylor Jungmann is in the process of having is pretty unique,” Smith said.

When it comes to Smith’s important walk statistic, Jungmann models the ideal. The ace has handed over just eight free passes in his conference-leading 57.1 innings pitched.

Though stacked with experienced starters like Jungmann, Texas added a freshman who has already solidified his pivotal role on the team with a team-leading 0.93 ERA.

Freshman right-hander Cory Knebel has settled into his closing role with seven saves, second-most in the Big 12.

Turley will likely get the start at 3 p.m. Saturday for the Bears and comes in confident without downplaying the caliber of pitchers with which he will share the mound.

“It definitely puts pressure on us because we know they are going to throw three studs,” he said. “But I think we will rise to the occasion.”

Junior Trent Blank is expected to take the mound for the Bears on Sunday. Blank carries a 5.56 ERA and is fresh from a six-inning, three-run performance in last Sunday’s 12-4 win at Kansas.