By Daniel Hill
The Baylor Bears are just a half game out of first place in the Big 12 with a 7-4 conference record and a 19-18 overall record. Baylor travels north to Fort Worth this weekend for a crucial three-game weekend series against the TCU Horned Frogs.
“We know what we have to do,” ,” senior right-handed pitcher Max Garner said. “We have to win games. We don’t really have to look at the standings. We’re a half game out of the conference lead and right now we are trying to keep the conference championship here and that’s the main goal.”
This will be the first Big 12 series between the two teams. They did meet in the Southwest Conference in 1996.
Overall, the Bears lead the series against TCU 137-110, so there is plenty of history on the diamond between these two teams.
With all the history between Baylor and TCU, it’s natural that there’s a solid rivalry between the schools.
“Ever since I got here, people didn’t like them and I guess I just got bred into not liking them,” senior shortstop Jake Miller said. “I don’t know whether it’s just another Christian university in the state of Texas or because they’re always good and we’re always good, so people just want to be on top.”
On Friday, the Bears will go with Garner on the mound to open up the first game of the series. Garner has a 2-4 record and a 3.56 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 55 and two-thirds innings of work this year.
“Seeing TCU with a Big 12 patch on their jersey will be new,” Garner said. “It’s fun. I think they’re great for the conference in every sport so I think it’s going to be good.”
When head coach Steve Smith looks at TCU’s team, it’s almost like looking in the mirror at his own Baylor squad.
“I see a team that, they were one-two in the league in all the preseason polls for the same reason because both of them were returning,” Smith said. “They’ve played an incredibly tough schedule to start off with. I think the two of us, we have followed very similar scripts. We went to Ole Miss. We went to Irvine. They hosted Fullerton and UCLA. Both of us could have done something entirely different and probably our overall records would be better but I don’t know if we’d be better. I don’t know if we’d know who we are. Your guys want to play the best and I respect that in them. That’s what we’ve always done and I think they’ll be standing at the end of the day.”
On Saturday, sophomore right-handed pitcher Austin Stone is slated to take the mound.
Stone has a .500 winning percentage at 2-2 and has a 3.95 ERA in 27 and one-third innings of work.
On Sunday, the Bears will turn to their ace in junior right-handed pitcher Dillon Newman. Newman has a 3-2 record and an impressive 2.83 ERA in over 57 innings of work.
Newman has the second best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the nation with just two walks to his 43 strikeouts.
After hitting two home runs, a walk-off homer and a grand slam, to propel the Bears to a 2-1 series victory in a three-game series against Oklahoma, senior third baseman Cal Towey is peaking at the plate for the back stretch of Big 12 play.
After an 11-game home stand, the Bears have just four more games at home and eleven on the road for the remaining season schedule.
“You just have to get used to the crowds,” Towey said. “You can’t let it bother you. You just have to treat it the same way as home. Just be comfortable and it helps a lot when you can put up some runs early and get more comfortable so that you can try to tack on later in the game. You just kind of have to get used to it.”
After struggling early in the season, the Bears are catching their stride and vying to repeat as Big 12 champions.