By Jeffrey Swindoll
On a beautiful, cool night at Baylor Ballpark, the Baylor baseball team opened its home season with a 5-2 win against UT-Arlington on Tuesday.
The Bears (2-2) started with freshman left-hander Daniel Castano on the mound. The first batter Castano faced grounded out on a hit to the second baseman. A sac fly with the bases loaded gave UTA the lead in the first inning.
Castano gave up a run and had two runners on base already in his first career start.
Castano got some pep in his step after making a tremendous play on a bunt. Running all the way down to the third base foul line, he threw the runner out at first from his knees— a sigh of relief for the freshman Castano.
“We’ve been always taught to take a deep breath, and try to calm down as much as you can,” Castano said. “I was pretty nervous at the beginning, just trying to find the strike zone. [I told myself] to take it just one pitch at a time.”
Castano pitched four innings, recording a strikeout. UTA got three hits and two runs off Castano, but Baylor head coach Steve Smith said he liked what he saw from Castano’s debut start.
“He held it together,” Baylor head coach Steve Smith said. “He made a great play on the bunt. A great play. That was as impressive as anything I saw all night.”
In Baylor’s turn at bat in the bottom of the first inning, the Bears did not respond to UTA’s one run though.
The Bears got on the board in the second inning. Junior right fielder Adam Toth got on base after UTA made an error on a pop fly with two outs. Toth went on to score after third baseman junior Duncan Wendel hit a triple.
It took a couple innings for Baylor to really settle into the batter’s box, but the after a good defensive inning for Baylor, the Bears also stepped up their hitting. The improvement gave the Bears two hits but did not result in any runs.
UTA center fielder Derek Miller launched Castano’s last pitch of the night into right field, earning a double, RBI and the 2-1 lead for the Mavericks.
Sean Spicer entered the game for Castano in the fifth. Spicer hit his first batter, but Baylor’s infield defended well by completing a double play on a grounder to Langford.
Smith went to his bullpen for the second time of the night in the sixth. Spicer only pitched one inning before senior pitcher Doug Ashby took his position from the bump. Ashby was flawless with two strikes against and no hits against five batters.
The sixth inning marked the turning point for Baylor’s offense. The Bears got two hits off of UTA’s Brad Vachon with one out.
UTA head coach Darin Thomas called time, but stuck with Vachon as his pitcher with runners on first and third base.
Vachon then loaded the bases after hitting senior DH Grayson Porter. On the next play, sophomore first baseman Mitch Price punished Vachon with a ripper down the middle.
“I was trying to go up the middle the entire time,” Price said. “I saw the slider from [Vachon] early, so I kind of thought it would come up again. So, I just waited on it that time and took it right up the middle— got enough bat on to get through.”
Two runners came home for Baylor, giving Baylor a 3-2 advantage, and the first lead of the night. UTA head coach Darin Thomas replaced Vachon after a rough sixth inning with junior left-hander Zach Hobbs. Hobbs went the rest of the inning without any hits or runs.
UTA’s early success at bat diminished when Ashby pitched. Baylor ended the top of the seventh inning cleanly. The Bears were licking their chops for another inning of offense after putting some pressure on the UTA bullpen in the sixth inning.
Freshman catcher Matt Menard slammed a drive to right field, putting runners on third and second. After Hobbs entered the game, UTA struggled to establish a solid defensive game for the Bears. Hobbs walked the next batter, loaded the bases.
Senior pitcher Keegan Hucul came in for the Mavericks, but did not start his night on the right foot. Hucul threw the ball past his catcher on his first batter.
With the bases loaded, Baylor sent a runner home as UTA scrambled for the ball, but could not get it soon enough. Baylor scored, making it 4-2. Hucul intentionally walked his next batter and loaded the bases with one out.
Thomas looked to his bullpen again in the seventh, now putting junior right-hander TJ Whidby on the mound. Porter hit a sac fly to right field, strengthening Baylor’s lead to three.
Ryan Smith came in after a no-hit outing from Ashby and took care of his inning with one strikeout and no hits against three batters.
Thomas put his junior right-hander Colin Tornberg in after Whidby walked two Baylor batters. Tornberg was the sixth pitcher of the night and ended the inning promptly with a strikeout. The Bears wrapped up the game in the ninth inning with senior right-handed pitcher Josh Michalec earning the save.
Next up, the Bears face Austin Peay in a weekend series at Baylor Ballpark, starting at 6:35 p.m. Friday, 3:05 p.m. Saturday and 1:05 p.m. Sunday.