The 2014 Big 12 baseball season got under way this weekend, and if the opening weekend of play is any indication, we are in for an exciting spring campaign filled with a few surprises.
Big 12 teams collectively went 17-12 on the opening weekend of the 2014 season, with two teams (Kansas and Oklahoma State) winning three games without a loss and three others (Texas Tech, Oklahoma and TCU) winning their weekend series two games to one.
Probably the biggest surprise from the weekend baseball results was Kansas, picked to finish last in the Big 12 preseason coaches’ poll, sweeping the first three games in its four-game series with Brigham Young. Meanwhile, conference favorite and defending champion Kansas State was swept over the weekend by Cal Poly.
The Jayhawks got outstanding pitching performances from southpaw starter Wes Benjamin, who pitched seven innings and gave up six hits and four runs on Friday, and right-hander Robert Kahana, who pitched a shutout through seven innings in the first of two games on Saturday, yielding just four hits. Closer Jordan Piche, the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last season, finished off both games for the Jayhawks.
Oklahoma State, ranked 18th to start the season in the USA Today/ESPN college baseball poll, swept its three games in the University of Texas-Arlington Hilton International Tournament, defeating the host team 4-3 in the tourney final.
Texas Tech was projected by the league coaches to finish eighth, right above Kansas, took three of four from Indiana, ranked third in the Baseball America preseason poll. Baylor was not as fortunate however. The Bears, ranked in the top 25 in several of the preseason national poll, lost two of three to Arizona State, No. 19 in the USA Today/ESPN preseason poll.
In other season-opening games around the Big 12 this weekend, Oklahoma took two of three from visiting Seton Hall, TCU won two of three against Jacksonville, and Texas split four games with California out on the West Coast. West Virginia salvaged the final game of its three-game set in the Citadel Tournament in South Carolina, beating the host school 10-2 on Sunday.
Six Big 12 teams were ranked or received votes in one or more of the 2014 preaseason college baseball polls. Texas, Kansas State and TCU weere ranked in the top 25 in all four of the major national polls (USA Today, Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball and NCBWA).
Although K-State was the choice of the Big 12 coaches to repeat as champions in 2014, only six votes separated the first four teams (Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas) in the preseason poll rankings.
All four of the Big 12’s major award winners at the end of last season return in 2014: Player of the Year Ross Kivett, who plays second base for Kansas State; Pitcher of the Year Harrison Musgrave of West Virginia; Kansas closer Piche, Newcomer of the Year, and Freshman of the Year Jake Matthys, a relief pitcher for Kansas State.
Steve Smith of Baylor and Augue Garrido of Texas are longest tenured of the Big 12 baseball coaches. Both have been at their respective schools since the beginning of the Big 12 in 1996-97. Oklahoma sports the newest head coach. Pete Hughes has replaced Sunny Galloway, who was at OU for nine seasons before leaving at the end of last season to take the same post at Auburn.
Seven Big 12 players have been named to 12 preseason All-America team watch lists, including three first-team selections for Ross Kivett of Kansas State.