By Jeffrey Swindoll
Baylor baseball opened the season in dramatic fashion, coming from behind 7-2 to beat the No. 19 Arizona State Sun Devils 9-7 Friday. The rest of the series shaped up to be much different for the Bears (1-2, 0-0), who went on to lose the series 2-1 after a 7-4 loss on Saturday and a 12-1 result on Sunday at Winkles Field-Packard Stadium at Brock Ballpark in Tempe, Ariz.
“It’s early in the year,” Baylor head coach Steve Smith said after game three. “You’re going to see some really, really bizarre scores from some really, really good teams, and that’s just the nature of the game. It’s really the nature of this time of year, especially.”
Early in game one, there was not much room between the two teams. After some back and forth play, ASU led Baylor 3-2 after five innings.
The Sun Devils (2-1, 0-0) punished the Bears in the sixth and seventh innings. After some errors from Baylor, ASU scored five unanswered runs, putting the Bears in a deep hole late in the game.
Senior infielder Grayson Porter helped Baylor finally get something going with a leadoff single in the top of the eighth. Following Porter’s lead, Baylor fought back to make it 5-7, scoring three runs in the eighth inning.
It was late in the game and looked like it was going to be a loss for Baylor, but Porter had other plans. Porter continued to impact the game with his bat, tying the score on a 3-0 count with a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning. Porter finished the night going 2-for-4 with three RBI’s.
“We were very good in the eighth and ninth, not so much in the sixth and seventh,” Smith said. “We hung in there and battled. I like the fact that our kids now believe they can win a game like this.”
After a huge comeback win on Friday, the Bears would have to dig out another comeback in game two of the series on Saturday.
Junior pitcher Brad Kuntz started the game on the mound for Baylor, but only pitched 3.1 innings and was one of five pitchers that pitched for Baylor on Saturday. Kuntz checked out with three strikeouts against 16 batters. The Sun Devils put the Bears in a hole early, getting nearly half of their hits and four runs off of Kuntz.
The Bears trailed by three, but the fourth inning was the beginning of Baylor’s rally to tie the game. Freshman outfielder Darryn Sheppard earned his first collegiate home-run in the fourth inning, making it 3-1. Baylor would go on to score another to make it a one-run game.
ASU responded to Baylor’s eventful fourth inning with a run off of a double steal to make it 4-2.
Baylor’s junior outfielder Logan Brown blasted a one-out home run to help the Bears cut the deficit to one once again.
Brown ended the night going 2-4 with one hit, one RBI and one run. Sheppard went 3-4 with two hits, one RBI and a run of his own on a homer. ASU won the hit-battle though, 7-12.
Six of Baylor’s batters made up those seven hits, and ASU earned its 12 hits with nine different batters. Baylor tied the game 4-4 in the sixth inning, but it was the closest Baylor got to the lead.
Game three exposed problems in Baylor’s defense. It was a fairly tight game for most of the nine innings.
The Sun Devils scored early off an error in the second, but Baylor responded later with a run in the sixth. It was the calm before the storm for the Bears though.
ASU gashed Baylor wide open with nine runs in the sixth. An inning later, Baylor failed to score any runs, and the Sun Devils added two to their total, making it 12-1.
“It was a relentless attack by our guys,” ASU head coach Tim Esmay said. “I was very proud of them.”
The Bears overcame a 7-2 deficit in game one, but 11 runs in game three was too much for the Bears to pull off in two innings.
ASU left-hander Brett Lilek pitched four innings and earned a career-high seven strikeouts, only allowing two hits and one walk.
“I knew that Baylor was going to try and get us starters out of the game as fast as they could, so they were going to be patient,” Lilek said. “I knew if I [got ahead of hitters], our offense was going to be relentless and put in some nice work and get runs, so I didn’t have to worry about that.
Errors and inefficient play from the bullpen hurt Baylor badly in game three.
The Bears fielded five different pitchers, and none could really stabilize the game after the crippling sixth inning.
Smith brought up the condition of the field as a possible factor for Baylor’s fielding miscues that led to runs. Generally though, Smith acknowledged those mistakes as his team’s, and the fault should not fall on anything else.
Sheppard was a clear standout and positive takeaway after his homer in game two, and won Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors on Monday.
The Bears play their first home game against UT-Arlington at 6:35 p.m. today at Baylor Ballpark.