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CBB Column: Checking in on the Big 12 (March 3rd)

Courtesy of Big 12 Sports

Courtesy of Big 12 Sports

By: William Knox
With 2 weekends under the belt, the Big 12 race is beginning to take shape. As is usual, the Texas Longhorns are sitting atop the Big 12 standings at a perfect 9-0, followed by 6-1 Oklahoma State, 7-2 Texas A&M, 6-2 Baylor, 5-2 Kansas State, 7-3 Oklahoma, 5-3 Nebraska, 5-4 Texas Tech, 2-3 Kansas and 2-7 Missouri.

#7 Texas has won their first 9 games thanks to an incredible pitching staff. The Longhorn staff has posted an astounding 1.15 ERA with 3 shutouts. The most impressive game came on Sunday vs. Penn State where Big 12 Pitcher of the Week Brandon Workman threw the school’s 21st no-hitter. On the weekend, Texas gave up a pair of runs in the first 2 games, followed by back-to-back shutouts of the Nittany Lions. Texas-Arlington is the only team to score more than 2 runs in Austin, plating 3 on February 23rd in a 3-4 loss in 10 innings. Offensively, Texas is led by SS David Hernandez, DH Preston Clark and LF Tant Shepherd, all hitting above .400. The Longhorns share a .322 batting average through 9 games.

Oklahoma State has used a different tactic to win 7 games. With a staff ERA of 7.40, Oklahoma State has simply outscored their opponents. With a 3-0 record in 1 run games, Oklahoma State does just enough with their bats to keep their staff out of trouble. Neil Medchill’s 13 RBIs is good for 2nd among Big 12 players, while his .440 average ranks 8th. Doug Kroll leads the Big 12 with 5 home runs in only 7 games.

#4 Texas A&M, the preseason favorite in the Big 12, has losses to Centenary College and #9 Rice sandwiched around an impressive win against #5 UC-Irvine in Houston. A&M has one of the Big 12’s deepest pitching staffs. The Aggies boast a 2.78 ERA with 9.33 strikeouts per 9 innings. Alex Wilson, a transfer from Winthrop and former National Freshman Pitcher of the Year, leads the starters with a 1.42 ERA and 21 strikeouts in only 12.2 innings of work. Kyle Thebeau and Travis Starling have combined for 3 saves so far in 2009. Offensively, Caleb Shofner has cooled down from his .900 start and settled in with a .542 average and .676 OBP, the latter leading the Big 12. Dylan Petrich, the teams DH, is 2nd on the team with a .500 BA while P/LF Brooks Raley is batting at .406.

Baylor is lead by Logan Verrett, an early candidate for Big 12 Freshman Pitcher of the Year. Verrett’s 3 wins is the most of any Big 12 pitchers, while his 0.00 ERA is tied for first with Texas’ Brandon Workman and A.J. Morris of KSU. Freshman Joey Hainsfurther leads all Big 12 hitters with a .565 BA and 0 strikeouts in 23 at bats. Baylor’s start was rough, winning 2 of 3 at home against Pacific in a series where all 3 games were decided by 1 run. LF Adam Hornung leads the Bears with 3 home runs, and is 1 of 5 players hitting better than .300.

Both of Kansas State’s losses have come by only 1 run, while their 5 wins have been by an average of 6.6 runs. Kansas State has been one of the most well-rounded teams so far, with a 3rd best .313 BA and a 2nd best 1.97 ERA. Jason King and Justin Bloxom pace the Wildcats with .479 and .379 BAs, respectively, while all 4 starting pitchers have ERAs ranging from A.J. Morris’s 0.00 to Lance Hoge’s 2.45. On the base path, Kansas State has a Big 12 high 20 stolen bases on 29 attempts.

The Oklahoma Sooners average 10 runs and 13 hits per game, with a Big 12 best .362 BA. With 3 players hitting better then .440, the Sooners have yet to meet a pitcher than cannot hit. Through 2 weekends, the Sooners lead the Big 12 in almost every offensive category. Jamie Johnson, hitting .500, is in the top 5 in BA, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, RBIs, runs, total bases, OBP and walks. A Sooner sits atop the Big 12 leaders in an impressive 7 of 11 categories. The pitching staff does not have the accolade that the hitters do, unfortunately, sitting ahead of Oklahoma State, only, in ERA. Andrew Doyle leads the staff with a 3.46 ERA.

Nebraska’s 5-3 start is below the norm for teams from Lincoln. The Huskers hitters are only at a .286 BA, while the pitching staff ’s ERA is a hair over 4 at 4.03. Tyler Farst is the top hitter with a .435 BA, while Big 12 Player of the Week, Adam Bailey, is 2nd in the Big 12 with 4 home runs. P Mike Nesseth’s 0.75 ERA leads the team along with his 19 strikeouts in 12 innings. Casey Hauptman has surrendered only 1 run in 10.2 innings of relief work for the Huskers.

Texas Tech’s hot 5-1 start fizzled over the weekend after a series sweep by Cal-State Northridge. The Raiders are without veteran Willie Rueda, and are forced to use a bevy of freshmen in an attempt to bridge the gap. Transfer Kellen Monreal is the new team leader in BA at .364 after Chris Richburg finished the weekend 0-11. Scott LeJeune, the starting DH, has hit safely in 7 consecutive games after failing to record a hit in his first career game. On the mound, A.J. Ramos has yet to surrender a run in his first 2 starts, both limited by pitch count after returning from Tommy John Surgery. Fr. Ben Flora has been a pleasant surprise out of the bullpen, striking out 6 batters in 4.2 innings of work.

Kansas had the best start of any Big 12 team, beating Air Force on opening day behind Schaefer Hall’s no-hitter, before dropping 2 games to Memphis. Kansas then rebounded with a series split against #21 Arkansas, running their record to 2-3 on the year. Kansas is the only Big 12 team without a home run hit, so far. The team is batting .263, 9th of 10 schools in the Big 12 with baseball teams. The pitching staff, behind Hall’s no-hitter, has a combined ERA of 3.60, 5th in the Big 12.

Missouri’s 2009 campaign has been a complete disappointment for a team with veterans on all sides. A tough schedule has knocked the Tigers to 2-7 after 7 consecutive losses to Gonzaga, Nevada, Arizona State and Oregon State. With 4 veteran hitters under .300 and a staff ERA above 5.00, Missouri has yet to put anything together that will help them out of their slump. Kyle Gibson, the teams top pitcher, has been stellar, with a 1.38 ERA in 2 starts, but the rest of the starters have not seen the same success that Gibson has on the mound.

The season is still young, but the Big 12 teams have already started showing what their seasons will be like. Texas and Texas A&M have the talent to stay afloat while other teams suffer from a lack of veterans and experience. With 11 weeks until the Big 12 tournament, there is still room for improvement.

William Knox is currently a senior at Texas Tech University. He is also the founder of Absolutely Obnoxious where he gives his opinion about Texas Tech athletics. You can check out his site by clicking here.

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