Battle-tested: Baylor baseball hopes to shine in conference opener

Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Michael Haag | Sports Writer

Baylor baseball is back home to open Big 12 conference play against No. 21 Texas Christian University in Waco, the first game set for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Baylor Ballpark.

This is the first time the Bears (9-7, 0-0 Big 12) have hosted the Horned Frogs (12-4, 0-0 Big 12) since 2018, as the 2020 conference slate was canceled due to COVID-19.

Baylor is not dwelling on its recent 11-10 road loss to Sam Houston State University on March 15, as the team looks to outperform expectations. Even though they came into the year projected to finish fifth in the Big 12, the Bears are 4-2 in ranked matchups this season and believe they can continue that success.

“I just think us losing that game is just gonna push us to be better because our backs are against the wall now,” freshman right-handed pitcher Mason Marriott said. “So one way to go is up – forward. We can push through for this weekend and show them that we’re the team. Whatever we can do to win, we’re going to do it.”

In the eyes of junior infielder Jack Pineda, he feels the group has a chance to be dangerous if they properly bounce back from some of their woes.

“I think the beauty about mistakes is that you can learn from them,” Pineda said. “I think two, just one of the things about us struggling as a whole right now – I think that allows us the opportunity to get hot as a whole. I think that’s kind of where this team can get a little bit scary.”

With the team opening up Big 12 play this weekend, head coach Steve Rodriguez is sharing the same mindset as the players; fueling those losses into ways to get better from it.

“You’re starting conference [play], which is always the beginning of something, but at the same time, you can’t put everything in the past … We still have to learn from it,” Rodriguez said. “We have to grow from it, and make sure we capitalize on some of the things we’re doing really well and work on the things that we need improvement on. But for us, we’re 0-and-0 going into conference and now we can make some noise.”

Among the squad, the excitement level is high as they welcome TCU this weekend. Pineda and the group are expecting to play up to their competition, something they feel they have done throughout this season.

“I think we’re excited,” Pineda said. “I think we’ve played well against some really good teams and so to see some really good competition, I think it definitely brings out the best of us – as we kind of learned in Houston – and everyone’s really excited. Especially just to get on the field again after the last game.”

For first-year pitcher Marriott, the goal for the team is to win the conference, and in order to do that, they have to execute on all cylinders.

“It’s different,” Marriott said. “Everyone knows we’re trying to be Big 12 champions. If we go out every weekend, show out and win games, then we’re going to be able to have a great season.”

After Friday’s opening contest, the series against the Horned Frogs will continue at 3 p.m. Saturday and wrap up after a 1 p.m. contest on Sunday. Baylor has won five of its last six home games against TCU, but the Frogs have taken the last four outings, a series sweep in Fort Worth and a win in the 2019 Big 12 Championship.

The Bears are battle-tested and ready to go for another ranked opponent, part of the reason Rodriguez constructed such a tough non-conference slate. He has full belief in his squad to go out this weekend and get some wins.

“They’re not going to see anything they really haven’t seen yet,” Rodriguez said. “That for me is a great sign because they’re going to have the confidence, they’re going to have the ability to get through whatever’s thrown at them. Our guys’ confidence level is pretty high when it comes to being sure of who they are and who they can be and what they’re able to do.”