By DJ Ramirez | Sports Writer
The Big 12-leading Baylor baseball team is packing some extra juice as it prepares to host the No. 12-ranked Texas Longhorns this weekend at Baylor Ballpark, and in head coach Steve Rodriguez’s eyes, there might be something wrong with you if you’re not excited for it.
“It’s University of Texas, which is really huge anywhere in this state, and these kids have played with and against a lot of their team,” Rodriguez said. “So that’s what makes it great. Some of these kids have been on the same high school team or the same club team as a lot of their guys. So there’s some personal pride that goes into it, obviously school pride is going to go into it, and it’s always going to make for good baseball.”
The No. 22-ranked Bears are on top of the conference with a 5-1 record and are 21-7 overall after a midweek 5-1 win over Dallas Baptist. Baylor has won eight of its last nine games and had a seven-game win streak before dropping the series finale against Kansas on Sunday.
Sophomore shortstop Nick Loftin and junior transfer Paul Dickens received Big 12 honors on Monday, with Loftin being named Player of the Week for the first time in his collegiate career. The Corpus Christi native is second in the conference with a .392 batting average and is riding an 11 game on base streak.
Dickens also received his first conference honor as the Newcomer of the Week. The Navarro College transfer threw a career-best 12 strikeouts in the opener against the Jayhawks, the most by any Big 12 pitcher this season. Dickens said having a lineup like Baylor’s makes him feel more confident on the mound and that the conference awards reflected that.
“I guess it means I’m doing something right,” Dickens said. “Every time you just try to go out there and make pitches, try to keep your team in the game, especially with the lineup that we have. They gave up like three or four runs a game, like that’s OK because our lineup is going to produce five or six runs a game, if not more. So it’s really comforting to have a lineup like we do.”
Adding an extra edge to an already dangerous lineup is senior outfielder Cole Haring, who leads the Bears with six home runs on the year and delivered the second grand slam of his career, the first for Baylor, in the opener against Kansas. The Katy native is hitting .329 and slugging .573 in his second year with the Bears. Haring said having impactful hitters like junior third baseman Davis Wendzel ahead of him in the lineup has helped him with his own hitting.
“I mean, it’s pretty easy for me. Actually, Davis comes into the dugout, he faces the pitcher before me and he just tells me what to do and I just go up there and do what he says,” Haring said.
Baylor will be facing a battle-tested Texas team. The Longhorns are tied for third in the Big 12 with a 3-3 conference record, 20-12 overall, and are just coming off a midweek loss to Texas A&M. They’ve played a tough schedule this year and have come up with big wins, including a sweep of No. 9 LSU. The opener will be a matchup of sophomore righties with Baylor sending Jimmy Winston to start on Friday. The Bears fill face Longhorn ace Bryce Elder who’s sporting a 1.70 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 42.1 innings. Texas, like Baylor, came into the season with a young untested pitching staff that’s second in conference in total strikeouts but leads in walks and wild pitches. Rodriguez said the Longhorns would provide different competition for the Bears.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us. They’re going to come in, they play great defense, they have good speed, they have power, and obviously the pitching at Texas is always pretty good,” Rodriguez said. “So I just know we’re going to have our hands full, and we just have to make sure that we play our game and minimize mistakes the best we can.”
Since the game will broadcast on ESPNU on Friday night, first pitch will be at 8 p.m. The Saturday match begins at 3:05 p.m. and the Sunday finale starts at 3:30 p.m.