By Max Calderone | Sports Writer
The Baylor (8-6) baseball team will open up Big 12 conference play this weekend as No. 6 Texas Tech (16-3) travels to Waco for a three-game series.
The Bears are coming off a 7-2 loss Tuesday night to Sam Houston State that snapped a five-game winning streak.
Head coach Steve Rodriguez said he is comfortable with how his team has been playing of late and credits the non-conference schedule for putting the team in a good position to learn and grow.
“When we pitch well and we play great defense, I really like our chances,” Rodriguez said. “Offensively, I saw some pretty good things these past couple games. I’m really excited about getting our guys back out there and playing.”
The Red Raiders will continue their eight-game road trip, heading to Baylor Ballpark after dropping three of five contests against No. 4 Kentucky and No. 12 Louisville. Texas Tech will be without ace pitcher Steven Gingery, who is out with a torn UCL in his throwing arm.
Rodriguez said even without Gingery, Texas Tech remains a very quality team and will be a challenging matchup for the Bears.
“Texas Tech is a phenomenal team. They do a really great job and they’re coming off one of the most intense road trips I’ve seen,” Rodriguez said. “They’re going to have a great team and they’re ranked accordingly.”
Baylor will be led offensively by sophomore first baseman Andy Thomas and junior outfielder Richard Cunningham, who are the only two Bears hitting above .300 (Thomas .375, Cunningham .333). Cunningham, who has been nursing an elbow injury and playing as the designated hitter, hopes to return to the outfield this weekend.
Sophomore catcher Shea Langeliers said the rest of the lineup will need to step up at the plate in order for Baylor to have success against a talented Red Raiders pitching rotation.
“We’re going to have to come together as a team and play our A-game of baseball,” Langeliers said. “And we’re going to have to step up our hitting a little bit for sure.”
Langeliers, who received many preseason All-American awards, is off to a moderately slow start offensively, hitting just .246, but leading the team with 11 RBI. He said he takes the most pride in his defense and is always working at improving behind the plate.
“The biggest thing for me is just catching and working with the pitchers, making sure I can control them throughout the game, being able to read them and calm them down mid-game,” Langeliers said.
Baylor will send sophomore lefty Cody Bradford to the mound tonight in game one. Bradford is 2-1 this season in four starts, with a 2.55 ERA. He said he is excited to face a prolific Texas Tech offense.
“For me, my senses and surroundings are heightened a bit knowing how quality of a team they are,” Bradford said. “Texas Tech historically always puts up a bunch of runs and they always have great pitching so it pushes us to want to be even better than how we’ve been playing.”
The 15-second pitch clock will be in effect this weekend as the Bears begin conference play. Bradford said nothing will change in his approach and that he is becoming used to the clock as it has been on throughout the season so far.
“It’s the same mindset as before. I’ve been working each inning on getting out there, getting warm-up pitches in and then using those 15 seconds before you have to start pitching,” Bradford said.
Baylor and Texas Tech will open the three-game set tonight, with first pitch scheduled for 6:35 p.m. at Baylor Ballpark. Games two and three will be played at 2:05 p.m. tomorrow and 1:05 p.m. on Sunday.