By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
Last time the Baylor Bear baseball team walked into Minute Maid Park, it saw the end of their early season winning streak with a 5-2 loss to Texas A&M in the opener of the 2019 Shriners College Classic.
Hitting the road for the first time in the 2020 season, the Bears are hoping to carry on the momentum from Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over UT Rio Grande Valley into this year’s Shriners Classic as Baylor faces a stacked field of SEC teams.
With some younger faces in the infield, who aided the Bears with three double plays against the Vaqueros on Wednesday, Baylor will be glad to have the veteran experience going into a big league ballpark. Senior catcher Andy Thomas said that while it’s exciting to play at Minute Maid, the team will have to keep its head straight facing good competition.
“I think the number one thing we have to focus on is keeping all of our young guys in check,” Thomas said. “The stage does get a little big for some people when they’re first down there but that experience with me, [Nick] Loftin, Chase [Wehesener], we’ve all played down there … We can take that to our young guys and say,Hey it’s no different than playing at Baylor Ballpark, it’s just a little bit of a bigger crowd.”
In what is basically a Big 12 vs. SEC challenge, the Baylor, along with Oklahoma and Texas, will take on Missouri, No. 11 LSU and No. 6 Arkansas throughout the weekend.
The Bears open the tournament against former Big 12 foe Mizzou at 11 a.m. Friday, facing the Tigers for the first time since April 2012. Baylor leads the all-time series 33-26-1. The Bears swept Mizzou in the Tigers’ last Big 12 season. Houston native and redshirt junior Brandt Belk is the driving force behind Missouri’s offense as the Pepperdine transfer leads the Tigers with a .480 batting average, two homers, eight RBI and three stolen bases.
Baylor then takes on the 11th-ranked Bayou Bengals at 3 p.m. Saturday. LSU, currently on a three game winning streak, is 4-2 in the Shriners’ Classic and got the win over the Bears in 2017. Head coach Paul Manieri is three wins away from the 600 mark as the Tigers’ 14th-year head coach and has 1,461 wins over a 38-year career. The Bears’ pitching staff will have to execute against sophomore first baseman Cade Beloso who leads LSU with nine RBI, six of which he roped in last weekend against Eastern Kentucky.
Baylor will then close out the series facing the No. 6 Razorbacks at 7 p.m. Sunday in what might be its toughest game yet. The last time the Bears played Arkansas was in a heartbreaking, extra inning 1-0 loss in the Waco Super Regional on June 11, 2012. The Hogs took two games of the postseason series to advance to Omaha that year.
Arkansas enters the weekend undefeated 7-0, hitting the road for the time this year, after a four-game sweep of Gonzaga in Fayetteville, Ark. The Bears will have their hands full with a stacked lineup and will face junior righty Kole Ramage who holds a 3.86 ERA and made two appearances against the Zags this past weekend.
Baylor head coach Steve Rodrigiez said the competition in Houston this weekend gives the tournament Omaha-level vibes.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see any of those teams in Omaha,” Rodriguez said. “We have to go and we have to play well. We have to pitch well and execute. We have to play good defense. To be honest, I think we’re going to see a lot of low scoring games and it’s going to be a matter of execution at the end of the game that’s going to determine who wins and who loses.”
All three games can be streamed on AT&T Sportsnet and MLB.com.