It’s early enough in the conference season that success over a single weekend can produce a big shift in the standings.
Such is the case this weekend in Big 12 baseball as two of the Texas teams at the top of the conference standings head north to take on opponents from which more was expected but instead are off to slow starts.
Preseason favorite Oklahoma (19-6, 2-3) hosts surprising Texas Tech (17-8, 4-2), off to a 4-2 start in the conference, in a three-game set at Dale Mitchell Park in Norman, where the 11th-ranked Sooners are 13-3 this season. Fifth-ranked Texas A&M (20-5, 5-1) heads even further north, to Manhattan, Kan., where the Aggies will square off with Kansas State (15-8, 1-5), currently in the conference cellar.
A sweep by the home team in both of these weekend pairings, or even taking the series with two wins, would make a big difference in the standings because of the limited number of games played thus far.
For example, a sweep by Kansas State over A&M would result in a three-game swing in the standings, leaving the league-leading Aggies 5-4 (from 5-1) and elevating the last-place Wildcats to 4-5, one game back of Texas A&M. The same thing would be true of the OU-Tech series. The Sooners could conceivably go from one and a half games back of the Red Raiders to the same number of games up on the visitors from Lubbock.
The Red Raiders, whose pitching staff owns the highest team ERA in the Big 12, allowing 5.18 earned runs per game in 25 outings, will have a big challenge in slowing down OU’s league leading offense, powered by junior All-America candidate Garrett Buechele. The Sooner third baseman tops the league in hitting (.429), home runs (6) and runs batted in (32). Oklahoma also leads the Big 12, hitting .332 as a team. Right behind the Sooners, though, is Texas Tech at .319.
The key game in the Tech-Oklahoma series this weekend will be the opening game tonight. A win by the Red Raiders in the series opener will give them a huge boost for the rest of the weekend. In order to get that opening-game win, though, Tech will have to beat the Sooners ace and one of the best pitchers in the Big 12 in hard-throwing right-hander Michael Rocca, who is 6-0 in his six starts with an ERA under 1.00.
Texas A&M has relied on strong starting pitching for much of its success this season. The Aggies lead the conference in pitching with a collective ERA of 1.91. The A&M rotation boasts three of the top 10 pitchers in the Big 12 in right-handers Michael Wacha (4-1, 0.60), Ross Stripling (5-1, 0.76) and preseason All-American candidate John Stilson (1-1, 1.06). Kansas State will see all three this weekend.
The Texas Longhorns, tied for seventh in the national rankings, are at home this weekend against the Missouri Tigers (13-12, 1-1). The Longhorns (18-7, 4-2) also rely on strong pitching, and when junior right-handed starter Taylor Jungmann is on the hill, they’re offering up the best in the conference. Another All-American candidate, Jungmann is 5-0 in six starts with an ERA of 0.52. Equally impressive, he has fanned 42 batters while yielding only five walks.
Jungmann is especially strong when pitching at home at UFCU Disch-Falk Field, where the Longhorn ace is 14-0 in 21 career starts. Missouri has played only one other conference team so far, splitting two games last weekend in its Big 12 home opener with Oklahoma. The rubber game in the series was cancelled because of the weather.
Texas dropped two of three last weekend at Oklahoma State. Veteran coach Augie Garrido admitted that the Longhorns learned some important lessons from the Oklahoma State series. “The first is momentum. We had the momentum early (in the third game), but you could slowly feel the momentum shift to their side and we were unable to stop it,” Garrido said. “The second thing is the importance of every inning, and not allowing one inning to cost you the ball game.”
Rounding out the conference schedule this weekend, Nebraska (18-9, 1-2) is at Oklahoma State (15-8, 3-3) and Baylor (16-10, 3-3) visits Kansas (10-14, 2-4). Kansas started off Big 12 play winning two of three from Oklahoma State, but was swept the following weekend at Texas A&M.
For more information:
Big 12 Conference official athletics website
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