Big 12 Baseball Roundup: Back to the Ballpark

Freshman center fielder Jared McKenzie makes a hit during Baylor’s 7-2 win over Nebraska Sunday at Baylor Ballpark, hitting .571 after three games. DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

I think all of us baseball fans took big, deep breaths as soon as we entered our respective ballparks, relishing in the sights, sounds and smells that indicated the beginning of baseball season. And then a lot of us immediately wished we were watching from the warmth and comfortable safety of our couches.

Friday night was brisk to say the least, but the Texas Tech bats were hot. The Red Raiders bulldozed through their opponents over the weekend, totaling up 65 runs over four games, including 46 on Saturday alone. Tech got major breakout performances from several of its freshmen, particularly in that Saturday double header.

It looks like baseball talent just runs in the family. Big 12 Newcomer of the Week Jace Jung, who took over third base from his All-American older brother, Texas Rangers No. 8 draft pick Josh Jung, hit 6-for-12 combined with a total of 13 RBIs, five of which he brought in during Tech’s 24-3 win against Houston Baptist Saturday. The freshman also blasted out two home runs during each game of the double header.

But the newcomer driving the train for the Red Raiders was Big 12 Player of the Week Nate Rombach. Against the Huskies on Saturday, the freshman backstop put up three homers and followed it up with a double and another moon blast in Tech’s first game against Northern Colorado. In total, Rombach drove in 11 runs on the day.

Tech might have swept the conference weekly honors with strong pitching from its entire rotation, but West Virginia had something to say about that. Big 12 Pitcher of the Week Jackson Wolf had a no-hitter going through six innings in the Mountaineers’ opener against Jacksonville Friday night which ended in a 3-0 shutout win in favor of WVU. Wolf had eight strikeouts and didn’t give up a hit until the seventh, which is reasonable considering he was three pitches away from reaching the 100-pitch mark.

West Virginia played three close games, dropping Saturday’s match by one run 4-3 and coming back with a 2-1 victory on Sunday. Redshirt senior Braden Zarbnisky pulled double duty going 6-for-13 at the plate with two RBIs while playing left field and then coming in to close both the opener and the rubber match with three strikeouts over 1.2 innings combined.

Senior third baseman Kevin Brophy, freshman center fielder Victor Scott, sophomore right fielder Austin Davis and junior second baseman Tyler Doanes were the offensive producers for the Mountaineers bringing in just eight hits. So the pitching power is there for West Virginia, but the hitting is still working out the kinks.

Two teams that had no trouble hitting were TCU in the north and Texas in the south.

Like I said in my preseason take, we don’t have to like the Horned Frogs, but that doesn’t take away from them being good at baseball. TCU swept Kentucky in Fort Worth, showing that nothing beats having a bucketload of experience. Veterans like Austin Henry, Hunter Wolfe, Gray Rodgers and Phillip Sikes all came up big at the plate while Haylen Green, Charles King and Drew Hill anchored the pitching. It’s only the first week, but this Horned Frog squad will be difficult to defeat if they remain consistent.

Now, we all know that the University of Texas is a tennis school, but its baseball team could be back on the road to greatness. The Longhorns went down to Houston for a sweep of the Rice Owls and showed that they can throw anyone on the field and still compete early in the season. Texas really spread the hitting around, particularly on Saturday when they had six hits off six different batters. The veteran core of outfielders Austin Todd and Duke Ellis, first baseman Zach Zubia and catcher DJ Petrinsky posted two hits each Sunday, with each of them putting a run on the board.

Junior righty Bryce Elder continues to be the Longhorns’ ace, throwing six innings with six strikeouts and only allowing three runs, two of them earned, in Friday’s opener. Sophomore righty Ty Madden was even more impressive, shutting down the Owls through six innings with seven strikeouts. And junior closer Donny Diaz now has two saves under his belt after wrapping up both Friday and Sunday’s games.

You know who didn’t have a great Valentine’s Day: Jimmy Winston. The redshirt junior righty got absolutely lit up by Nebraska in Baylor’s opener Friday night. Unfortunately, that’s just how baseball is sometimes. After that 42-minute, 11-run, three-error half inning, however, the Bears managed to right the ship and take the series back from the Huskers.

I have to be honest, and I mean this with no offense to Ricky Martinez, but I was definitely missing Josh Bissonette during those 42 minutes that I was sitting in the camera well, quickly losing the feeling in my fingers. Three of those two defensive errors came from second base and the sophomore looked kind of uncomfortable in the four-hole. It was probably just first game jitters, or the cold, because Martinez did turn it around throughout the weekend, aiding the Bears as they turned three double plays during Sunday’s rubber match. He also had big moments at the plate on Friday and Sunday.

Baylor also had stellar performances from freshmen Jared McKenzie and Tre Richardson, who combined for 11 hits through three games. No one better could have replaced Richard Cunningham in center field than McKenzie, who had 12 putouts with a perfect fielding percentage. I swear it felt like the kid came straight out of “Angels in the Outfield.”

We also can’t forget Chase Wehsener’s ability to come in clutch when you need him most. The redshirt sophomore hit the first homer of the season Friday night, a little bright spot in the 10-run loss, and he was responsible for the walk-off line drive on Saturday.

To wrap things, because y’all know I can go on forever, Nick Loftin should just be given all the awards already. The junior went 6-for-15 with seven RBIs and a massive homer, to which senior catcher Andy Thomas responded with a rocket of his own (the first of his “25 home runs” this season).

What did I miss? Oklahoma State dropped the series to Grand Canyon while Oklahoma made a comeback to take the series vs. Virginia after a Friday night loss. Kansas won 2-1 but Kansas State lost 2-1 and Iowa State doesn’t have team. But they do have a softball team, which I find weird.