Road tests: BSB and SB face OU in Norman

Both baseball and softball are traveling to Norman, Okla., for series against the University of Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Michael Haag | Sports Writer

It’s a tough road test for Baylor baseball and softball, as they head to Norman, Okla., for conference series against the University of Oklahoma, beginning Friday and finishing Sunday. It’s a conference-opening series for softball, while baseball is coming off a 1-2 series loss in its Big 12 opener versus Texas Christian University.

Softball has the rougher end of the stick, facing a No. 1 Sooner team (26-0) that has dominated its slate, playing most games away from their own Marita Hynes Field – only one game played there on the year. The Bears (17-10) will look to clean up some mistakes from their non-conference 12-3 loss to OU in Honolulu, Hawaii as part of the Rainbow Wahine Classic.

Baylor baseball (11-9, 1-2 Big 12) still has its work cut out for it against a Sooner (12-7) team that has won seven of its last nine games. This home series for OU is their Big 12-opener, as they welcome the Bears to Norman this weekend.

SOFTBALL

Looking at the schedule and seeing No. 1 OU in Norman is unsettling enough. Head coach Glenn Moore knows how elite the Sooners are, but thinks having that non-conference game in Hawaii can benefit the Bears well.

“Undefeated, No. 1 in the country, no weaknesses in their lineup that we’ve been able to find,” Moore said. “So, obviously, the task ahead of us is daunting, but we’ve already got a look at them in Hawaii. So we’ve seen them one time and did a few things that we can hopefully build on and try to compete a little bit more this time.”

Having that game in the team’s back pocket is key to freshman outfielder Taylor Strain, who advised people to not underestimate this young group.

“Well we did see OU in Hawaii so we kind of know what to expect and they know what to expect from us too,” Strain said. “We’re a scrappy team and obviously we’re not projected to come out on top, but I wouldn’t doubt our team. We’re fighters and we know we can hit against them. We can get the job done, I know we can.”

Strain’s attitude resonates with freshman right-handed pitcher Kaci West, as her mentality is that everyone on the diamond is equal when it’s game time.

“We know who we are. We go in and play our ball,” West said. “My mentality is when we step on the field, everybody is equal. We all have to throw the same ball, we all have to hit the same ball. So go out there and play our game.”

That level of motivation is expected from Moore, as he anticipates his squad to give it their all, even with such a tough opponent.

“I would be very surprised if anybody in our starting lineup, or on our team for that matter, went into these games expecting to lose,” Moore said. “They’re going to go in expecting, ‘Hey, you’ve got to play your best ball to beat us. If you do that, then we’ll tip our hats to you. But you better bring it, because we’re going to punch you in the mouth as soon as we can.’”

There are no opponents as tough as the Sooners, but Moore finds relief in this matchup due to the lack of pressure on his Bears and is thankful for the opportunity to potentially best the top team in the nation.

“I get excited about playing No. 1 teams. You don’t get the opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country very often,” Moore said. “So I look at this as the pressure is on them rather than us. No one in the world is expecting us to have a chance, and we have three [more] chances against them. So, we have an opportunity to go up there and shock the world, if you will, and do something that will turn a lot of heads.”

The team is still embracing the underdog role set upon itself in January and have the hunger to defeat all odds.

“Being the underdogs, it’s not like we don’t have anything to lose,” Strain said. “But we want to prove people wrong. We want to prove everybody wrong.”

Baylor softball will open the series at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Marita Hynes Field at OU Softball Complex, followed by a 2 p.m. first pitch Saturday and the closing contest scheduled for noon on Sunday. Each game can be watched on Bally Sports Oklahoma or listened via radio on 101.3 FM.

BASEBALL

It’s a different spot for Baylor baseball – not competing against a top-ranked opponent – but the series ahead is of high importance for a team that suffered a brutal heartbreak last season.

“Last year – it’s pretty redundant now – but being 65th out, that was the reason why, because we didn’t win the series that we were supposed to win, [or] we didn’t sweep when we were supposed to,” sophomore infielder Tre Richardson said. “We lost to certain opponents that we shouldn’t have lost the game to. Understanding that every single game is just as important as the next in conference; that’ll be the biggest thing, just going out and winning the game.”

The difference in this series for head coach Steve Rodriguez, is the fact that it’s the team’s first true road series of the season.

“We’ve played some midweek games on the road, which has been great just to make sure that we have been road tested. But, in regards to weekends, this is our first road weekend that hasn’t been a neutral site where you’re playing three different teams,” Rodriguez said. “Going up to Norman, it’s going to be a great test for us. I’m excited about what our guys have been doing this past week. So, this should be a really fun weekend.”

Coming off a series-salvaging win against TCU was huge for sophomore right-handed pitcher Chandler Freeman. He loved how much of a test it was for the guys and knows they will build off it.

“I think it was a good test to kind of see where we’re at,” Freeman said. “It told us that we’re a team that can make adjustments, to go from the offensive performance we had on Friday, and then Saturday, Sunday — just crushing the baseball — was huge. I think it shows that we’re a tough team, getting that win on Sunday.”

For Rodriguez, the recent home series was also important in getting the conference opener under your belt. He said it may give the Bears an advantage since OU has yet to play a Big 12 game.

“I think it does get some of the nerves out of the way, and our guys have been in the thick of it already,” Rodriguez said. “So, is there some advantage? I think so. It would be great if they were down here, so they would have to be on the road first. But, at the same time, we’ve got to play the games just like they do. And hopefully, we can take advantage of some of the mistakes that they might make.”

Baylor knows the importance of each Big 12 win, as Richardson wants to show the growth of this team through valuing each success along the way.

“Just go out and win. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Richardson said. “Especially when you get to conference, every single game is important. There’s no games that are less meaningful or more meaningful than others. Understanding that, in conference, we need to get as many wins as we can to move on.”

The Bears kick things off at 6:30 p.m. Friday, then have consecutive 2 p.m. starts for Saturday and Sunday at the L. Dale Mitchell Park. Each game is broadcasted differently as Friday’s game is on Bally Sports Oklahoma Extra, Saturday’s on Sooner Sports TV and Sunday’s on Bally Sports Oklahoma. For those without those channels, you can listen to the radio broadcast for all contests on ESPN Central Texas 1660 AM or 92.3 FM.