Injury-riddled Baylor baseball hosts Nebraska for weekend series

Junior pitcher Paul Dickens pitches the ball against Dallas Baptist on Feb. 26 at Baylor Ballpark. Shae Koharski | Multimedia Journalist

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Writer

Instead of heading north to 20-degree weather, Baylor baseball will host Nebraska this weekend to kick off a weeklong home stand at Baylor Ballpark. The Bears are ready to get back on the field after having to postpone Tuesday night’s game against UT Arlington due to cold temperatures.

Baylor will have to continue the rest of the season without junior left-handed pitcher Cody Bradford. The 2018 Big 12 Pitcher of the Year was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, which happens when the nerves and blood vessels in the neck and shoulder areas become compressed by surrounding structures. Head coach Steve Rodriguez said Bradford’s injury will allow some of the new guys to step up for the team.

“I think any time you can have adversity kind of hit your team, you get to see what the make-up is all about. You get to see great opportunities for other kids to be able to step up, and kids who want to say, ‘Hey, I want an opportunity.’ Well now’s your chance,” Rodriguez said. “So the awesomeness about it is that you’re always begging for kids to get a chance and an opportunity. You never want it to happen at another kid’s injury, just because of that, but it’s an amazing opportunity for our team to overcome something.”

Despite losing their ace for the year, and with junior backstop Shea Langeliers still sitting out the next few weeks with a wrist injury, the Bears are keeping up that “next man up” mentality.

According to Rodriguez, junior righty Hayden Kettler will continue as the Friday night starter and junior transfer Paul Dickens will be pitching on Saturday. Either sophomore lefty Tyler Thomas or true freshman Anderson Needham could have the start on Sunday to close out the series. Senior second baseman Josh Bissonette said he’s glad the team is facing these challenges early in the season rather than later.

“Any team’s going to go through adversity. For us to go through it at an early stage this season, I think is probably the best situation, just so that when we have our guys healthy, we’ll have a good stretch going into the post season,” Bissonette said.

Aside from getting to play in warm weather this weekend, Baylor is looking forward to facing the team coached by two-time Major League All-Star and three-time Golden Glove winner Darin Erstad. California natives Bissonette and junior third baseman Davis Wendzel expressed their excitement as they grew up watching the former Los Angeles Angel play, basically from their backyards.

Nebraska is coming into this series against the Bears with a 4-6 record. The Huskers have not played a game at home since they began their season in Riverside, Calif., where they took the season opener against UC Riverside 21-6 on Feb. 15. After taking the series from the Highlanders, the Huskers were swept by No. 7 Oregon State in the Big 10/Pac-12 Challenge. They held No. 3 Texas Tech to one run with a 2-1 victory on the first night of the Frisco College Baseball Classic last Friday but gave up an 11-10 walk-off win to Sam Houston State on Saturday. Their Sunday match versus No. 12 Mississippi State was canceled due to cold weather.

Senior center fielder Richard Cunningham said the team is excited to play against the Huskers, who were part of the Big 12 until 2011.

“Any time you get to play a program like Nebraska, or really any program from any big Power Five conference, or wherever it may be, when they got some pedigree to them, some tradition and history to them, it’s a lot of fun for us,” Cunningham said. “You know when Baylor squares off against Nebraska everyone kind of wants to see the outcome cause it’s two big dogs going at it, so we’re excited about it.”