Revivalry: Bears face No. 12 TCU for first Big 12 road series

Third baseman Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo squares up for a bunt against Texas during Baylor's 5-3 loss to the Longhorns Friday at Baylor Ballpark. DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

The Bears have a bitter taste in their mouths.

Baylor baseball may lead the Big 12 offensively with a .325 batting average, they may lead the nation in hits 229, they may have 10 batters slashing .300 or better, but they’re 1-2 in conference and on a one game losing streak after a mid-week extra inning loss to UT Arlington.

“We’re better than the way we played Friday and Saturday, and we showed it on Sunday,” senior righty Logan Freeman said. “That momentum from that Sunday game is going to carry into this weekend. Knowing that, Texas being who they are, and the numbers that we put up, or that we feel we should have put up, don’t necessarily reflect who we are as a team.”

The Bears are looking to turn things around this weekend in Fort Worth, facing conference rival TCU for a three-game series at Lupton Stadium. Baylor swept the Horned Frogs in the regular season in 2019 and 2018, but TCU came back with a vengeance, eliminating the then-defending champions from the Big 12 Tournament.

That was Baylor’s last conference game before the pandemic and it might serve to intensify the Bears’ motivation to win.

“We know they have a pretty good pitching staff and we’re excited to see how we’re going to take that approach offensively,” junior third baseman Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo said. “I think there is a little bit extra fire this weekend because we’re playing TCU and because our last conference game [in 2019] was a loss to them. We try to approach the game the same way. We want to go out there and compete every pitch and trying to win every pitch. And if we can do enough of that, we have the ability and the potential to win every single weekend.”

Baylor seems to have found confidence and comfort in its starting rotation, sending fourth-year junior Tyler Thomas, third-year sophomore Blake Helton and fifth-year senior Hayden Kettler to take the mound against the No. 12 Horned Frogs. Thomas will once again have the Friday start. The Keller native has been on a tear with a 1.93 ERA with a 2-1 record and leads the Bears with 30 strikeouts, holding opponents to a .184 batting average. Kettler has also been dominant as the Sunday man, executing a 1.45 ERA with a 2-0 record, pitching seven innings in each of his last two outings against Xavier and Texas.

“Our pitching staff has done a really good job of just making sure they manage the running game and making sure they manage the free bases,” head coach Steve Rodriguez. “We need to continue to do that this week.”

At the plate, the Bears will face off against a strong pitching staff in TCU lefties Russell Smith and Austin Krob and righty Johnny Ray. Baylor’s hitters have had consistent hitting all season but have been looking to come through with the two-out RBI after leaving 16 runners on base during the series with the Longhorns.

“The biggest thing for me is, don’t force the at-bat,” Rodriguez said. “I talked to our guys a little bit about that. If they’re going to throw you a strike, great, make sure you take a good swing. If not, then don’t force the at-bat and feel like you have to do something.”

Fifth year senior catcher Andy Thomas was the spark plug for Baylor last week, going 11-for-21 with a .524 average and a .905 slugging percentage. The veteran added two homers, two doubles, seven runs scored and eight RBI over five games. The Murrieta, Calif., native was named the Bobby Bragan Player of the Week, as well as the Lariat Sports Spotlight Athlete for his performance at the plate last week.

The opening game is set for 6:30 p.m. Friday, with game two scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday and the rubber match at 1 p.m. Sunday. The series will be broadcast on Big 12 Now (ESPN+) with Chuck LaMendola on play-by-play and former Horned Frog Connor Wanhanen as the color analyst. Derek Smith will be on the radio call for ESPN 1660/92.3 FM.