By Matt Larsen
Senior Chris Slater took advantage of a rare chance at redemption to give Baylor baseball an 11th inning, 7-6 win over Florida International Tuesday night.
With runners on second and third, Slater belted a ball over the center fielder’s head that helped the Bears improve to 12-5 on the season and give coach Steve Smith his 600th career win as a head coach. All 600 have been at Baylor.
“It was a great team effort. We fought through an early deficit and battled back,” Slater said.
Baylor trailed by as much as five runs before completing the comeback. Its winning streak improves to seven games.
The Bears scratched across the game-tying run in the ninth inning. Sophomore Steve DalPorto, who reached on a walk, scored on a throwing error after sophomore Logan Vick’s bunt.
But with Vick on second, junior Brooks Pinckard on third and nobody out, the Bears could not notch the walk-off hit. Slater struck out, junior Josh Ludy popped out and junior Joey Hainsfurther grounded out to end the inning.
“I was definitely upset at myself. But the first thing coach Smith did was pat me on the back and say, ‘Flush it; move on to the next pitch, the next play,’” Slater said of his ninth inning strikeout.
Pinckard took the mound with a runner on first in the top of the 10th inning and struck out the side. He allowed a single in the 11th, but the runner was retired on an inning-ending double play. For his efforts, Pinckard received his first win of the season and improves to 1-0.
Baylor freshman Trae Davis struggled in his first career start, allowing four runs off three hits in just an inning of work. Smith later said Davis’ arsenal, including a 93 miles per hour fastball and a low 70s curveball, was not the problem.
“I really think that’s on me, because clearly his stuff wasn’t a problem; he’s throwing hard. But he’s clearly not ready to start,” Smith said. “It’s not a knock against him; it’s not like he has to be ready right now. He’ll get another shot at it.”
Junior Tyler Bremer took over for Davis in the second. The Panthers added one more against the righty before the Bears answered with one in the bottom of the inning to bring it to 5-1.
Bremer kept FIU off the board in the third, but the Panthers managed one more off of Bremer’s successor Brad Kuntz in the fourth.
“Bremer was very good. I thought Kuntz was the key in the middle; he really settled us down,” Smith said.
Speed would allow the Bears to inch closer in the fifth as Pinckard doubled and stole third to set himself up to score on a sac fly from Slater. The Bears would strand two more, though, this time on second and third, to end the inning at 6-2.
After giving up one in the fourth, Kuntz kept the Panthers scoreless in the next two innings, and sophomore Max Garner added two hitless innings of work.
In the sixth, the bottom of the Bears order picked up where the front half left off. A walk and a single put Hainsfurther and DalPorto on first and second for Pinckard to drive home with his second double in as many innings. Pinckard’s speed cut the deficit to 6-5 as the centerfielder stole third and then advanced home on a throwing error by FIU catcher Iosmel Leon.
“Whenever you go down 4-0 in the first inning, your mood changes. It really shouldn’t, and we try our best not to let it,” Pinckard said. “Luckily, it’s a nine inning game.”