By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Like a Sodoku or crossword puzzle, Baylor baseball’s schedule should be written with a pencil, not a pen. And an eraser might come in handy.
After the Bears’ season-opening weekend series against Jacksonville State was canceled because of an unprecedented winter freeze, Baylor coach Steve Rodriguez beat the bushes and went through countless scenarios before settling on a three-game road series at UTRGV that begins with an 11 a.m. doubleheader Sunday at UTRGV Stadium in Edinburg.
“I think everybody has been scrambling, doing the same thing, trying to find places that have not had water issues, finding places that have not had electrical issues, and then finding facilities that you’re able to play on,” Rodriguez said. “It’s definitely been a grind. I told our coaches this has been the most bizarre 72-plus hours that I’ve ever had to deal with. It was all over the map.”
The possibilities included a trip to Houston to face Arkansas-Little Rock, Houston Baptist and Rice on the Owls’ home field, but that fell through when Rice had a water-main break and had to cancel. UTRGV coach Derek Matlock provided the 11th-hour rescue, when Lamar had to cancel a weekend series in Edinburg because of COVID issues.
“I couldn’t ask them to come to our place, just because of our field conditions,” Rodriguez said. “I said, let me talk to my administration and make sure we can get everything moving in the right direction. Obviously, there are power outages all the way down here. We just wanted to make sure we had the ability to find hotels and get down here in a timely manner. We were just very lucky that this was able to work out.”
Coming off a 10-6 finish in a COVID-shortened 2020 season, the Bears will start sophomore right-hander Blake Helton and junior lefty Tyler Thomas in Sunday’s doubleheader and senior right-hander Jimmy Winston in Monday’s 1 p.m. series finale. The Vaqueros will counter with Kevin Stevens and Kevin Palm on Sunday and J.C. Ariza on Monday.
Rodriguez said one of the keys for the Bears making their fourth NCAA regional in the last five years will be getting good starting pitching to go with an experienced bullpen led by preseason All-American and All-Big 12 pick Luke Boyd. Other options for the starting rotation are fifth-year senior Hayden Kettler and freshmen Evan Godwin and Will Rigney.
Working his way back from arm tenderness, the 6-6, 210-pound Rigney could be ready in a month.
“There are some mechanical things right now that have gone really well for him,” Rodriguez said. “Right now, that’s kind of where we are. He feels really good, and the progression he’s been making over the past week has been fun to watch. I really like the pace that he’s going at and the prospects where he could be in a month.”
Senior catcher Andy Thomas and freshman centerfielder Jared McKenzie joined Boyd on the preseason All-Big 12 team. Kyle Nevin and Davion Downey are projected starters in the outfield, with Chase Wehsener, Ricky Martinez, Tre Richardson and Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo giving the Bears an experienced infield.
“The biggest thing is we need some guys to step in who we think are pretty good, and we need them to play well,” Rodriguez said. “Let’s be honest, we need older guys to play like older guys and talented guys need to play like talented guys. And the guys who don’t know any better, they just need to surprise everybody and play well.”
UTRGV won its last eight games a year ago to finish 11-7 and won the Western Athletic Conference championship the year before with a 34-21 record. That 2020 season included a four-game split with Kansas State to open the season and a 2-0 loss at Baylor on Feb. 26 in the only previous meeting between the two programs.
Baylor will play in the Round Rock Classic next weekend at Dell Diamond, facing Texas A&M at 6 p.m. Friday, Auburn at 12 noon Saturday and Oklahoma at 5 p.m. next Sunday, Feb. 28. The Bears begin their home slate with a midweek game against Sam Houston State on March 2, followed by a four-game weekend series against Memphis March 5-7 at Baylor Ballpark.
EDINBURG, Texas – After a few schedule changes, Baylor baseball officially announced that it will head to Edinburg, Texas this weekend to play three games against the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley at UTRGV Stadium. The Bears and Vaqueros will start with a doubleheader on Sunday, Feb. 20 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The last game of the series will start at 1 p.m. on Monday.
BU’s originally scheduled three-game home series against Jacksonville State was canceled earlier this week due to weather conditions. The Bears were also scheduled to play the Vaqueros on Monday at Baylor Ballpark before the change.
Date: Sun.-Mon. Feb. 21-22
Game Times: (Sun.) 11 a.m. & 2 p.m. (Mon.) 1 p.m.
Site:Edinburg, Texas / UTRGV Stadium (4,000) (Closed to the public)
• Talent: Jonah Goldberg (pxp), Danny Elizondo (color)
• Talent: Derek Smith (pxp)
Live Stats: GoUTRGV.com
Series History: Baylor leads 1-0
Streak: BU has won the only meeting
First Meeting: Feb. 26, 2020 (BU won, 2-0)
Last Meeting: Feb. 26, 2020 (BU won, 2-0)
Under Rodriguez: 1-0
Sun. Feb. 21 – Baylor RHP Blake Helton vs. UTRGV RHP Kevin Stevens (Game One)
Sun. Feb. 21 – Baylor LHP Tyler Thomas vs. UTRGV RHP Kevin Palm (Game Two)
Mon. Feb. 22 – Baylor RHP Jimmy Winston vs. UTRGV RHP J.C. Ariza
• Head Coach Steve Rodriguez enters his sixth year at the helm for the Bears, sporting a 140-98 overall record. Rodriguez is 3-2 at BU in season-opening games, while winning the last four season-opening series.
• The strength of BU’s Bullpen in 2020 was on another level with Luke Boyd, Logan Freeman, Tyler Thomas combining for a 0.33 ERA in 27 IP between the trio. Baylor also returns seven of nine position player starters, including second-year freshman outfielder Jared McKenzie who was named a 2020 Freshman All-American (Collegiate Baseball), after hitting .406 with 28 base knocks in 16 games.
• Three Bears were selected to the 2021 Preseason All-Big 12 Team with Boyd, McKenzie and Andy Thomas all earning the distinction. Boyd was also named to the NCBWA Preseason All-American First Team.
• Five pitchers including Boyd, Freeman, Hayden Kettler, Ryan Leckich and Jimmy Winston are all back, along with veteran catcher Andy Thomas.
• Second-year freshman OF Jared McKenzie had a hit in 14-of-16 games last year and had multi-hit performances in 10 of those 16 games. The 2020 Freshman All-American (Collegiate Baseball News) totaled 28 hits last season which ranked 12th-most in the nation and the highest hit total of any freshman in the country. Likewise, his batting average of .406 is the highest of any freshman in the Big 12 and ranked third in a power-packed Big 12. He also ranked 21st nationally with an average of 1.73 hits per game.
• Kyle Nevin is coming off of an impressive first season with the program as he hit .350 at the plate, while tying for the team lead in triples in 2020 with two. Evan Godwin held his own in the rotation as a freshman in 2020, as he made three starts and finished third on the team in innings pitched (18.0) and second in strikeouts with 17. Hambleton Oliver ended last season with a stellar 1.86 ERA in six appearances, including two starts. Oliver compiled eight strikeouts in 9.2 innings.
• Baylor has a good mix of returners along with 20 new faces for the 2021 season.
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