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No. 12 Texas travels to Waco to face Baylor

The Horns make the trip up I-35 in an effort to knock the Bears from the top of the conference standings.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Arkansas vs Texas Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

After a week off from conference play, Big 12 action heats up again for the No. 12 Texas Longhorns, as head coach David Pierce’s team makes the short trip to Waco to face the Baylor Bears riding a four-game winning streak against the conference rival.

At 5-1 in conference and 21-7 overall, Baylor is off to a strong start in the Big 12 and also boasts a 17-3 record at the creatively-named Baylor Ballpark. Get it? It’s a ballpark and Baylor plays there. Good stuff.

The question facing the Bears is whether Baylor is actually going to emerge as a conference contender or fall back into the middle of the pack due to its weak early schedule — the five wins have come over West Virginia and Kansas, two of the three worst teams in the Big 12. So while Baylor is off to its best start in conference play since 2012, the schedule has been kind so far.

Shared opponents between the Bears and Horns don’t tell a flattering story, either. On the positive side, Baylor did manage to win two games against a bad Texas Southern team. On the negative side, one of those games was by a score of 3-2. And Baylor did lose to the two other common opponents, Rice and Texas A&M. Losing to the Aggies, as the Longhorns found out on Tuesday, is no shameful thing — Texas A&M is good — but Rice is currently 13-18. Not good.

At least head coach Steve Rodriguez was complimentary of Texas in his comments to the school’s website.

“The big thing is that they’ve been battling some pretty tough teams all year,” Rodriguez said. “They’ve been battle-tested. It’s going to be a great challenge for us. They play great defense, they have good speed, they have power, and obviously the pitching at Texas is always pretty good. I just know we’re going to have our hands full.”

While some of that is true, the Texas defense has been shaky at times and the power not especially apparent. Thanks for the kind words, though, coach.

On the mound, Baylor will call on sophomore right-hander Jimmy Winston (3-0, 0.56 ERA) on Friday. A lanky Houston Lamar product, Winston has only started in three of his 11 appearances, but had his best performance of the season last weekend in going 7.0 innings with zero earned runs and five strikeouts against Kansas. As the record and ERA indicate for Winston, he’s been consistent all season.

On Saturday, former Friday starter, Paul Dickens (3-1, 3.75 ERA), will take the mound. A junior college transfer, Dickens is a left-hander who leads the team in strikeouts with 49 in only 37.0 innings. Hayden Kettler (2-2, 4.24 ERA), the Sunday starter, is returning from injury that has him on a pitch count, so the extent to which Texas can stretch the Baylor bullpen on Friday and Saturday could have a big impact on what happens after Kettler comes out on Sunday.

The offense for Baylor is impressive, though perhaps a result of its schedule — the team is hitting .317 overall with 28 home runs, including six from outfielder Cole Haring. Holding the title of hottest hitter on the team is shortstop Nick Loftin, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Week after bashing Kansas to the tune of a .565 average (8-for-15) with two homers and six RBI. He leads the Big 12 in batting average, hits, and total bases.

First pitch on Friday is at 8 p.m. Central on ESPNU, with FSSW+ and FCS televising the Saturday and Sunday games, respectively, which will be available on FOX Sports Go. First pitch for Saturday is 3:05 p.m. Central, while Sunday’s game starts at 3:35 p.m. Central. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, though, as heavy storms are expected in the Central Texas area on Saturday, with rain expected on Sunday, too.