Bears travel to Lubbock for face-off with No. 5 Red Raiders

Senior reliever Jimmy Winston takes off after a ground ball in a game against North Carolina A&T on April 2 at Baylor Ballpark. Winston leads the Big 12 and is ninth nationally in wins with six. DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

Facing a ranked opponent isn’t a daunting task for Baylor baseball. The Bears held their own against No. 3 Texas despite the series loss and learned a lot from their downfall to No. 8 TCU as well. Since then, the Bears have picked up back-to-back series wins over West Virginia and Kansas.

According to senior catcher Andy Thomas, Baylor has what it takes to beat No. 5 Texas Tech in Lubbock this weekend.

“We want to go in there and prove something,” Thomas said. “We’ve got more games under our belt. But, honestly, it’s the same energy. We’re bringing the exact same energy. We’re going to try to score early, pitch and play defense well, it’s going to be windy up there, but that’s not an excuse. We just got to go hit, honestly. I think we go in there and play our game and get three from them. That’s what our goal is, and that’s what we have to do.”

The series is set to be a dogfight as the Red Raiders boast a 20-2 record at home. The last time Baylor and TTU played each other, both teams were ranked and the Bears were on top of the conference. Tech battled back from an 11-10 extra inning loss in game one to take the series with a walk-off in game two and a 13-3 run-rule win in the rubber match. The Red Raiders went on to win the conference title as Baylor hit a slump to finish the regular season.

Baylor may look like the underdog heading into a windy, rowdy atmosphere this weekend, but the Bears still lead the Big 12 in batting average and are second in ERA. Head coach Steve Rodriguez believes his team has found its identity and has what it takes to be successful against a really good Tech squad.

“When you look at us overall, we don’t have these flame-throwing pitchers. But overall, we’re a well-rounded team,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t have your first rounders maybe this year like we had in the past that are highlighting a lot of things. I think that’s a good thing, because it forces a lot of guys to play well, to do things right and just do what they’re asked to do. They’ve done a good job of that so far.”

Baylor’s starting rotation will look a little different this weekend as fifth-year senior Hayden Kettler will be moving into the Saturday role. Fourth-year junior Tyler Thomas remains as the Friday starter but the Bears have yet to determine who will pitch on Sunday. Texas Tech will pose another challenge on the mound for Baylor, sending out the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week, lefty Patrick Monteverde on Friday, All-American righty Micah Dallas on Saturday and Big 12 Pitcher of the Week lefty Mason Montgomery on Sunday.

Although they’ve suffered some injuries, the Tech lineup is loaded with hard hitters from top to bottom, including shortstop Cal Conley who, as a switch hitter, homered from both sides of the plate Sunday against West Virginia. Senior pitcher Jimmy Winston, who leads the team in wins with six, knows it will be difficult to pitch at Dan Law Field but said the staff is focused on going in with the same mentality they always have.

“Keeping the ball down is really important there, because the wind will blow,” Winston said. “So, they might end up hitting a home run, which really would have been a pop-up at other parks. But again, if that happens, it happens, and I’ve got to make better pitches if that’s the case. All the pitchers need to do that.”

The Bears and the Raiders open the series at 6:30 p.m. Friday with both the Saturday and Sunday games slated to begin at 2 p.m. The series will be streamed on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ and broadcast on the radio through ESPN 1660/92.3 FM on Friday and Sunday and 1590/99.3 FM on Saturday.