By Jeffrey Swindoll
Baylor baseball earned its first series sweep of the season against defending Ohio Valley Conference champ Austin Peay State University after winning 4-2 Friday, 15-1 Saturday and 12-1 Sunday. All three games exposed APSU’s weaknesses.
The win on Sunday marked Baylor head coach Steve Smith’s 700th career win. Only 35 other active coaches in college baseball have reached that prestigious milestone. Smith did not really make it known to his players he was on the verge of such an accomplishment, as some of them confessed they did not even know it was the 700th win until the announcer at Baylor Ballpark said so on the public address system at the end of the game.
Smith was all business this weekend, and his only response about achieving such a special thing was a smile as he said, “I just wish we would have gotten [the wins] sooner.”
Games two and three were rough for APSU’s pitchers. Baylor’s 27th batter was the first to get struck out in game three. That allowed Baylor to establish its presence in the batter’s box and really hit APSU where it hurts. The scoreboard showed APSU’s lack of efficiency and depth in the bullpen. The two double-digit losses are evidence of ineffective pitching and poor hitting from APSU.
The Bears (5-2) looked to have APSU (1-6) under control after the first inning in game one, but Austin Peay tied Baylor in the same inning. After making a tremendous catch against the left field wall earlier in the inning, freshman outfielder Darryn Sheppard could not strike gold twice. Two runners for ASPU came home on that play.
APSU adjusted to Baylor senior right-hander Dillon Newman’s stellar pitching after getting runners on base in game one. Baylor’s infielders defended Newman well by completing a double play to end the top of the inning though.
“It didn’t start quick for Dillon on the mound,” Smith said. “I thought he had to battle really early in the game and he wound up with nine strikeouts, and he got six of those in the fourth and sixth innings.”
Newman did not get off to the start Smith would have liked. Newman demonstrated resilience and turned out to have a great game from the mound with a career-high nine strikeouts.
“Early on in the game, I really didn’t have complete control of my fastball,” Newman said. “As the game went on, I really settled in though.”
Newman said he did not know he broke his career record in strikeouts on Friday. He said he still wants to make improvement with his cutter and curveball pitches.
Newman struck out the side twice, surpassing his former career high of eight strikeouts in one game. Newman singlehandedly took care of most of Baylor’s defense and was relieved of his duties in the seventh. Senior pitchers Doug Ashby and Josh Michalec added four to Newman’s nine strikeouts. Michalec earned his third save of the season in game one.
The pivotal moment of the series came from senior DH Grayson Porter. Porter launched Hall’s last pitch past the left field wall for a go-ahead two run homer. Kacy Kemmer took over for Hall immediately after the Bears took the 4-2 lead, and Baylor sustained the lead to win game one.
“I knew I didn’t get quite all of [the pitch on the sweet spot],” Porter said. “I was still feeling out the box, but I knew I got [the pitch] pretty well. I just let it fly.”
After Porter’s game-winning home run, APSU never seemed to find its way back into the series. APSU was out-hit and out-pitched— plain and simple. The Bears got three stout performances from the starting rotation, and the scoreline of each game illustrates Baylor’s comfort in the batting box and patient approach at the plate.
Newman took care of business on Friday, and the rest of the pitching staff followed suit for Baylor. Junior pitcher Brad Kuntz struck out seven batters and gave up two hits in six innings of work in game two. Junior pitcher Austin Stone earned five strikeouts and only two batters earned hits in game three.
Smith said it was overall a great response from Baylor’s starting pitchers after the rough season opening series against Arizona State.
Game two and three featured explosive offense from the Baylor as it exposed APSU’s shortcomings as a pitching staff. The Bears had a field day in the batter’s box and around the bases. Both games were similar in how the games played out from the mound. Game two featured a shaky start by APSU’s pitchers and ended up being a blowout for the Bears, and game three unfolded in similar fashion.
Baylor returns to the diamond against Incarnate Word at 6:30 p.m. today at Baylor Ballpark.