By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
Sometimes you just have a bad inning. After Baylor baseball got over a horrible 42-minute first inning in which they gave up 11 runs to Nebraska in the season opener, the Bears bounced back to take the series from the Huskers and then run-ruled Arkansas Pine-Bluff 10-0 on Tuesday.
Now, as they prepare to take on Oral Roberts this weekend, junior shortstop Nick Loftin said the team learned just how resilient they are, particularly after the opening loss.
“We could have let that dictate what we did the rest of the series, but we came back and bounced back from that Friday loss and ended up winning the series,” Loftin said. “It’s just been great momentum rolling through so [I’m] excited for what the future holds for us.”
The Bears got huge production from a pair of freshmen standouts over the weekend. Center fielder Jared McKenzie, hitting .588 through four games, has 10 hits and four RBIs as well as two stolen bases a week into the season. Fellow freshman and designated hitter Tre Richardson strung together a two-hit game in the rubber match against the Huskers and has a .333 batting average through four games.
Loftin said he’s glad to see all the hard work the newcomers have put in and that it reminds him of his own freshman experience.
“Just the hard work they put in, I mean, they come out here every day with a wide-eye bushy tail and I remember when I first got here, we came in so fast paced and all that,” Loftin said. “They’re doing a really good job managing it and slowing it down as best as possible and they’re putting together one heck of a start.”
Loftin, the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year, was consistent through the first four games, hitting seven RBIs on six hits with two runs, two doubles, a triple and a home run with a .316 batting average. On defense, the junior was part of four double plays over the weekend with eight assists. Recently added to the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award watch list and a top prospect for the 2020 MLB Draft, Loftin said he’s not worried about the recognition he’s receiving at the moment.
“I’m a big ‘team first’ guy,” Loftin said. “All these watch list, I’m not really looking towards that or looking at those right now. I’m focused on my team and taking it day by day.”
After evaluating his team after the opening series, head coach Steve Rodriguez said he was excited about what he saw in his players.
“I was really happy with our offense and some of the arms we had come out of the pen and what they did,” Rodriguez said. “It was just a great opportunity to get a lot of guys in that baseball game and at the same time, kind of take a look at our guys and see how they are going to react to something like that… I’m really happy with what I saw — the competitive nature they had and their attention to detail and how they executed.”
Baylor faces Oral Roberts, who trail the Bears in the series 25-19 with the home team winning six of the last seven meetings. The Golden Eagles are coming off a split series against Merrimack, taking the opener and the rubber match of a four-game series in Tulsa, Okla. Rodriguez said ORU will be looking to be aggressive on the mound.
“They have a lot of old Big 12 guys on their team, so they’re going to be very talented,” Rodriguez said. “They’re going to be aggressive in a lot of different aspects. They have some older guys who can hit and pitch and they’re going to come out ready to play.”
The starting rotation for the Bears this week will consist of senior lefty Paul Dickens taking the mound tonight, freshman lefty Evan Godwin, who pitched in relief against Nebraska, making his first start on Saturday, and senior righty Hayden Kettler wrapping things up once again on Sunday. Redshirt junior Jimmy Winston, who started the opener for Baylor last Friday is day-to-day with arm soreness according to Rodriguez, but will most likely be called out of the pen at some point this weekend.
The Bears host Oral Roberts in the series opener at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Baylor Ballpark.