By DJ Ramirez | Sports Writer
When college baseball season began in February, No. 16 Texas Tech was picked to finish first in the Big 12 with No. 18 Baylor coming in second. Now entering into the ninth week of the season and fifth conference match for both teams, the Bears are leading the conference with an 8-3 record, 25-10 overall while the Red Raiders are tied for third at 6-6, 23-12 overall.
Baylor packed up the bus on Wednesday and hit the road to Lubbock as they gear up to face Tech on Thursday. Junior infielder Andy Thomas said while the Bears have a chance to make a statement, they’re just taking it one game at a time.
“They were picked to win it and we were second, but honestly we’re just focusing one game at a time right now,” Thomas said. “Thursday is going to be a huge, huge day. We’re going to have to go out and play the best we can and hope for the best the rest of the weekend.”
The Bears may be on top, but that doesn’t mean Tech won’t bring a challenge. The short week means that neither team will have a day off until Easter, which puts some pressure on the pitching staff.
The rotation for the Bears will be pretty much the same as the last two weeks, with sophomore righty Jimmy Winston taking the start in the opener and junior lefty Paul Dickens throwing on Friday. The finale starter is to be determined later. Head coach Steve Rodriguez said he thought freshman righty Blake Helton could make another great start like he did last Sunday, but that no decision will be made as the first-year has also had a crucial role as a reliever.
“I’ll be honest, Helton did a great job for us, but if we have to use him earlier in the weekend, we will, and then we’ll figure out Saturday when we have to,” Rodriguez said. “Right now, we just need to focus on winning that ball game that day. I don’t want to start worrying about Saturday when Saturday is way too many innings away.”
The bullpen continues to be one of Baylor’s best assets. Veteran pitchers like senior closer Kyle Hill and junior relievers Ryan Leckich and Luke Boyd have really begun to anchor the pen, and many of the first-year players now have some experience to bolster their talent. Hill has continued to put on consistent outings and is the only guy on the pitching staff who still holds a 0.00 ERA. The Corpus Christi native credits the guys on defense for that, however.
“I know it’s zero. But, that’s just because of the guys behind me. You look at my strikeouts, 23 strikeouts in 21 innings. It’s because of the defense behind me, so just put the ball over the plate and let ‘em hit it,” Hill said.
Redshirt sophomores Jacob Ashkinos and Daniel Caruso have also become go-to guys in relief. As players like junior transfer Logan Freeman make their way into the action after coming off of injury, the Bears have more arms to get them through the week against a good hitting ballclub.
While the Red Raiders may only have a team batting average of .299, Tech junior infielder Brian Klein holds a .359 batting average, sitting at third in the Big 12 behind Bears junior third baseman Davis Wendzel who has a .380 average. Klein also has 35 RBIs, second most in the conference after his fellow teammate, Tech first baseman Cameron Warren, who has 42.
Junior catcher Shea Langeliers will have to keep his eyes on Tech sophomore Gabe Holt, who has taken the top spot in stolen bases with 21. Langeliers threw out his 10th base runner of the season on Tuesday against Sam Houston State and holds a perfect fielding percentage.
Aside from the technical aspects of the game, the Bears will also have to deal with windy weather and a passionate Red Raiders fanbase. But according to Thomas, the team is excited for another conference match against a challenging team.
“It’s always fun to play in Lubbock. Their crowd is a little interesting, they heckle a little bit more than anybody,” Thomas said. “So it’s fun to go up there and play. But they’re a good team. It’s always exciting to go up there and play probably one of the best teams in the Big 12. So it’s an exciting weekend for us.”