By Chris Derrett
Behind another strong outing from junior pitcher Logan Verrett and a game-changing home run from sophomore Jake Miller, Baylor baseball opened its final regular season Big 12 series with a 4-2 win over No. 13 ranked Oklahoma Thursday night.
The win guarantees Baylor a plus-.500 record on the season, the mark needed to be considered for an NCAA tournament at-large bid. The Bears have two games left against Oklahoma and can only lose a maximum of two games at the Big 12 tournament because of its format.
Verrett threw 8.0 innings for the Bears (28-23, 12-13), striking out eight batters and allowing just four hits. If not for a second-inning error, Verrett might have escaped the night without surrendering a single run.
“That’s what we needed,” Verrett said of his recent success. “I knew if we were going to be any good, I needed to step up a bit. It’s tough to do that, but I feel like I’ve done pretty good.”
As it stands, Verrett has allowed only one earned run in his last 24 innings. His eight-inning performance at Nebraska on April 29 helped the Bears to a 6-2 win, and Verrett received a no decision last Friday after eight innings when the Bears fell, 1-0, at Oklahoma State.
On Thursday the Sooners tagged Verrett in the second inning after junior Dan Evatt’s dropped fly ball helped set up a two-out, two-run home run for the next batter, Cody Reine. But from there, Verrett scattered three more hits and never had more than one runner on base in an inning.
“He’s got fastball command right now, and he’s doing a good job with that. I think that’s the biggest difference; he’s got command of the fastball. And when he’s got that, he’s always got a good slider,” head coach Steve Smith said.
Meanwhile the Bears, who grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on junior Joey Hainsfurther’s single, bounced back after Reine’s blast to give Verrett all the support he would need.
Miller’s heroics came in the bottom of the second inning in a nine-pitch at-bat. Miller worked the count to 3-2, fouling off four pitches and laying off two that were very close to but out of the strike zone. He sent the ninth pitch, a high and inside fastball, off the left-field foul pole for a 3-2 Baylor lead.
“That is almost like getting an inning out of the starting pitcher,” Smith said. “It was going to be a great at-bat, no matter what happened. But he finished it with that. You can’t draw one up any better.”
Miller entered Thursday tied for a team-high with 44 strikeouts. A few meetings before the game with assistant coach Steve Johnigan, Miller said, helped fix some of his struggles.
“A lot of my at-bats have been swinging [at a] strike three-slider,” Miller said. “I wasn’t even giving myself a chance with two strikes. So we reviewed that and decided I should choke up a little bit, get a little closer to the plate and battle a little more, and it’s working for me right now.”
Baylor added insurance in the fifth when Evatt doubled to left field and drove in sophomore Logan Vick. Despite having runners on base in each of their last three innings, though, the Bears could not add to the lead and finished with four runs on 12 hits.
The Bears next face the Sooners at 6:30 p.m. Friday and once more at 3 p.m. Saturday. Junior Josh Turley is expected to take the mound on Friday for the Bears, and junior Brooks Pinckard, usually the team’s centerfielder, will receive Friday off and start on the mound Saturday.