This. Is. March.
For seamheads, that means that start of conference play across college baseball.
For the No. 10 Texas Longhorns (12-5), that means a trip up I-35 to Waco to face off against the 12-4 Baylors, winners of 10 straight, to open Big 12 play. With the 2020 season canceled, Friday’s game will mark the first conference contest for Texas since May 17, 2019, when that dismal season mercifully ended.
In the overall series, the Longhorns have won five of the last six against the Bears, but the 10-game winning streak does represent the longest for Baylor since 2018.
The two teams have two mutual opponents this season, with Baylor opening the season with a series loss to UTRGV before beating Sam Houston State in a midweek game. Head coach Steve Rodriguez and his team have losses to Texas A&M and Oklahoma, but beat then-No. 17 Auburn, which has since fallen out of the Division 1 Baseball rankings.
Like South Carolina last week, Baylor enters the series at Baylor Ballpark with a ton of success at the plate, including a .346 team batting average with 17 home runs. At the top of the order, Round Rock native Jared McKenzie remains hot as a second-year freshman, hitting .411 with six home runs. Second baseman Jared Pineda leads the team with a .416 average and 11 walks. Every regular except for Davion Downey hits over .300, but even Downey isn’t easy to retire with 15 walks on the season.
On Friday, now known as Ty Day, that means strength on strength once again, as Texas ace Ty Madden (2-1, 1.33) looks to spin another gem against another high-level offense. With 35 strikeouts so far this season, Madden leads the conference and ranks 11th nationally while leading the Big 12 in hits allowed per nine innings at 3.33, ranking third in WHIP (0.70), and sitting at eighth in ERA (1.33).
Baylor counters with left-hander Tyler Thomas (2-0, 1.96), who has 18 strikeouts in his last 12 innings, including a two-hit performance over 6.0 innings against Memphis. On Saturday, right-hander Blake Helton (1-1, 4.41) takes the mound for the Bears, with right-hander Hayden Kettler (1-0, 1.54) taking the Sunday start.
The Longhorns will trot out their familiar weekend rotation with right-hander Tristan Stevens (1-1, 3.63) on Saturday and right-hander Kolby Kubichek (2-1, 2.50) on Sunday.
One storyline to watch is whether Baylor catcher Andy Thomas, a super senior, can control the running game for Texas — a selection to the 2020 Preseason All-Big 12 first team, Thomas has thrown out 8-of-12 runners this season. For several years, no one really even bothered to try to run on Thomas.
Swiping bases has been a big part of the Texas offense this season, as Longhorns center fielder Mike Antico leads the Big 12 and ranks fourth nationally with 11 steals, while left fielder Eric Kennedy ranks second in the conference with eight. As team, the 28 stolen bases by Texas is the best in the Big 12.
First pitch on Friday is at 6:30 p.m. Central on ESPN+.