First-place Bears host Oklahoma for weekend series

Baylor junior third baseman Davis Wendzel takes a swing against West Virginia on March 24 at Baylor Ballpark. The Bears sit atop the Big 12 standings with a 6-2 record and host Oklahoma this weekend. Branson Hardcastle | Multimedia Journalist

Baylor baseball continues to lead the Big 12 conference with a 6-2 record, but the Bears aren’t letting that achievement go to their heads as they prepare to host the Oklahoma Sooners for their fourth conference series of the year.

According to junior catcher Shea Langeliers, the team is going to play their game the best way they know how.

“It’s nice to be at the top, but I mean it’s so early in the season that we just got to make sure that we keep doing our thing and playing our game,” Langeliers said. “It’s just like any other weekend. It’s Big 12. Obviously, every team that comes to your park is going to come in here and try to kick your butt, so we’re getting ready for that and we’re making sure we’re going to bring our A-game this weekend.”

The Bears are coming off two tough losses, including a 13-inning nail-bitter against UT-Arlington on Tuesday night where they had 12 hits against the Mavericks but left 18 batters stranded. Baylor is “taking it with a grain of salt” and focusing on conference play. Freshman first baseman Chase Wehsener said the team got right to work in preparing for the weekend insisted of dwelling on Tuesday night.

“Yeah, I mean we had a great practice yesterday. Real light, kept it fun. I mean, there was no worry after that game,” Wehsener said. “There was no panic from anybody. We’re ready to get here this weekend and win a series and do our thing, get back to what we’ve been doing the whole season.”

Currently, the Bears are hitting .326, slugging .509 and hold a .410 on base percentage in conference. Overall, they have a team batting average of .313, a slugging percentage of .481 and an OBP of .402. Junior third baseman Davis Wendzel is second in the Big 12 with a .383 average and sophomore shortstop Nick Loftin takes fifth in the league, hitting .363.

Loftin has held the leadoff spot in the lineup since March 10. With the Corpus Christi native on top of the lineup, the Bears have scored 124 runs on 204 hits in the last 18 games. Individually, Loftin is 29-for-78 in the spot, he’s hit five homers, brought in 18 runs and has scored 20 himself. Head coach Steve Rodriguez attributes this success to Loftin’s versatility.

“He can handle the bat, he has skill, he can bunt, hit and run, he has power, he has speed, so he kind of gives you like a nice really versatile player to be able to put at the top of the order. Whenever big things kind of come up, I like the guy I have in the leadoff spot,” Rodriguez said.

Overall, the Bears have had big moments at the plate, getting a high percentage of their hits with two outs. They have four walk-offs on the year and completed their 14th comeback win against Texas on Friday night. Langeliers said the key to getting those big hits has been in looking for the right pitch.

“I think it’s just making sure you’re hunting the right pitches. You’re looking for a pitch in the zone that you can handle and if you get it early in the count then take advantage of it and just be patient if it’s not there,” Langeliers said.

Pitching wise, the Bears have continued to get solid starts form sophomore righty Jimmy Winston and junior lefty Paul Dickens. Winston still holds the Big 12’s lowest ERA at 0.95 and Dickens is fifth in strikeouts with 54. The bullpen has also been consistent, led by junior relievers Luke Boyd and Ryan Leckich. Boyd has a 1.90 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 23.2 innings pitched while Leckich sports a 2.13 ERA and has 28 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched. Redshirt sophomore Daniel Caruso and freshman righty Blake Helton have also become some of the go-to guys out of the pen and senior closer Kyle Hill has done his job not allowing a single run in 16 appearances.

Baylor will face an Oklahoma team that is tied for third in the conference with a 5-4 record. The Sooners are 24-10 overall with a slash line of .278/.390/.401. They lead the Big 12 in pitching with a 3.11 ERA, averaging 8.92 strikeouts per nine innings. Sophomore righty Levi Prater leads the Sooners on the mound with a 2.22 ERA and 56 strikeouts, right above Dickens as fourth in conference. Offensively, sophomore infielder Tyler Hardman leads Oklahoma at the plate with a .348 average.

Rodriguez said the Bears’ offense will have to be at their best against the Sooners pitching staff.

“Well, I mean their pitching is really good, so our offense is going to be on point in regards to our execution. Really just beating tough outs, so that’s going to be a big thing for us. They have a really good team offensively, pitching wise and then their back end of the game guys are really good,” Rodriguez said. “So, you know, we just have to get out there and play well. You know we’ve being doing a pretty good job in conference thus far and as long as we kind of continue to do that we should have some pretty good baseball games this weekend.”

First pitch against Oklahoma will be at 6:35 p.m. on Friday. The Saturday and Sunday games are both set for 3:05 p.m. starts.