Clemens, Texas look to win Big 12 baseball tourney
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Texas star Kody Clemens is taking steps toward breaking out of his father’s huge shadow.
Adding major awards and championships certainly doesn’t hurt.
The son of Roger Clemens was named Big 12 Player of the Year on Tuesday. He led the conference with 19 home runs this season and helped the Longhorns win the Big 12 regular-season title.
“From the very beginning of the season, he had an incredible, incredible year,” Texas coach David Pierce said. “The best thing I can say about Kody is the talents are there, but he is an unbelievable, unbelievable teammate. It’s really fun to watch his teammates rally behind him.”
He looks to add more to his resume when the top-seeded Longhorns (37-18) open the Big 12 Tournament on Wednesday against No. 8 seed Kansas (26-28).
In the other games Wednesday, No. 2 seed Oklahoma State (29-22-1) will play No. 7 West Virginia (27-25); No. 3 Texas Tech (38-15) will play No. 6 TCU (30-22); and No. 4 Oklahoma (34-21) faces No. 5 Baylor (32-19).
The winner of the championship game Sunday earns the conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
Clemens has a flair for the dramatic. He faced Baylor ace Cody Bradford — the conference pitcher of the year — in the first inning of a game on April 7 and sent a pitch up by his head out of the park for a solo homer. Texas won 2-0.
“The one that Bradford threw is the one I tell Kody not to swing at all the time,” Pierce said. “I have no idea how he hit it.”
Pierce was the Big 12 Coach of the Year. Blair Henley and Andy McGuire, both second-team All-Big 12 selections, anchor the Texas pitching staff. Texas has gone 28-9 since starting the season 9-9.
This is the first conference tournament since longtime Longhorns coach Augie Garrido died in March. He won two national titles with Texas and three with Cal State Fullerton. The coaches spent as much time Tuesday talking about Garrido as their own teams.
“It’s just the ultimate compliment that he would stop and talk with you,” Oklahoma State coach Josh Holliday said. “He would express and confirm the things he saw in routines that you respected and admired. I think for coaches to share, especially when they have so many moments in their vault that they could offer you, is a priceless gift.”
Texas Tech is the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 tournament, yet the Red Raiders are No. 5 in the most recent RPI rankings, the highest of any Big 12 team. Texas is 14th.
Infielder Josh Jung led the Big 12 with a .389 batting average and led the league in hits, runs scored, RBIs and on-base percentage. Outfielder Grant Little joined Jung as unanimous first-team picks for Tech. The Red Raiders led the Big 12 with five all-conference honorees.
Tech coach Tim Tadlock believes his team hasn’t peaked.
“Probably not a big numbers guy as far as looking back at any of that stuff,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve played our best baseball. I think that’s in front of us.”
Last year, Oklahoma State won the tournament as a No. 8 seed. This year, the Cowboys are a No. 2 seed and a threat to win again. Left-handed pitcher Carson Teel was a first-team All-Big 12 pick and catcher Colin Simpson was a second-team choice. Infielder Michael Neustifter and outfielder Jon Littell were second-team choices. Infielder Matt Kroon was the newcomer of the year and a second-team selection.
DANGEROUS NO. 8
Kansas ace pitcher Jackson Goddard is back from a strained oblique that cost him six weeks. He’ll join right-hander Ryan Zeferjahn, who was a second-team All-Big 12 selection.
“We’re going to run two of the best guys in America out there in Game 1 and Game 2, so we’re looking forward to the tournament,” Kansas coach Ritch Price said.
Baylor is seeded fifth, yet its pitching staff could give the Bears a chance. It starts with Bradford, who had a 1.88 ERA in league play. Another pitcher, Troy Montemayor, was a second-team All-Big 12 selection. The Bears led the conference with a 3.63 team ERA in Big 12 games.