Big 12 Notebook: Three teams to watch in the Big 12 tournament


Courtesy of Big 12 Sports

Second baseman Jordan Etier throws to first after fielding a ground ball in Texas’ 9-0 win over Kansas. Etier was 3-for-5 with 2 RBI. (Photo courtesy of The Daily Kansan)

Daniel Clay

The 2016 Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship will take place from May 25-29 at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.  The double elimination tournament will feature the top eight teams in the conference, and the prize at stake is an automatic berth to an NCAA tournament regional.

Horned Frogs look to fulfill high expectations

One ace pitcher is usually a good enough asset to win a regular season weekend series.

But in a contest like the Big 12 tournament, where the champion should expect to play five games in five days, one ace is not enough.

The No. 3 Horned Frogs do have a budding ace in freshman right hander Luken Baker who has carved out an impressive 1.70 ERA in his 10 starts, but the strength of their 2016 team is found in their depth.

A stellar bullpen behind Baker has helped the Horned Frogs earn a conference-leading 3.19 staff ERA to complement their also conference-leading .301 batting average.

Despite topping almost all of the Big 12 preseason polls and regular season stat columns, the Horned Frogs enter the conference tournament as the No. 3 seed thanks to a few tough series losses. But the slate is clean in Oklahoma City, and the Horned Frogs will be able to fall back on their strong supporting cast and may end up fulfilling their high preseason expectations.

Mountaineers ready to make waves

No. 4 West Virginia will hike into Oklahoma City just a game above .500 in conference play, but the Big 12 elite probably aren’t sleeping on the Mountaineers.

The Mountaineers closed out the regular season by sweeping the No. 7 Longhorns in Morgantown and then losing two out of three to Texas Tech in Lubbock. Those two losses were decided by a combined three runs.

While No. 1 Texas Tech, No. 2 Oklahoma State and No. 3 TCU have been battling it out for the top three spots in the conference, the Mountaineers have been quietly racking up conference Player of the Week awards and giving the Big 12 elite stiff competition.

The Mountaineers may not have a true superstar, but if they can get a strong start from junior pitcher Chad Donato and take advantage of opportunities on offense, the middle of the pack Mountaineers could make a run at the title.

Tech’s big test

No. 1 Texas Tech was the biggest surprise of the 2016 campaign.

The Red Raiders placed fifth out of 10 teams in the Big 12 coaches preseason poll. But, an explosive offense led by sophomore hitting machine Tanner Gardner, and dominant starting pitching in conference play shot the Red Raiders into first place in the Big 12 by season’s end.

If the Red Raiders do have a weakness, it is pitching depth, especially in the bullpen. At the conference tournament, that may matter more than anything. Texas Tech has defied the odds all season, but if the starters are not able to go deep into games and the bullpen cannot hold off the shakes, the powerful offense may not be enough to bring a trophy to Lubbock.