By Jeffrey Swindoll
For the first time since 2009, Baylor baseball was swept at home by a Big 12 rival. The Bears hung in the balance late in games one and three, but the Kansas Jayhawks’ offense thumped a lethal strike to Baylor’s Big 12 championship hopes over the weekend by earning a three-game road sweep.
If Baylor head coach Steve Smith knew the Bears would only give up one run on Friday and pick up 16 hits on Sunday, then surely he would have thought a series win was in the cards for the Bears over the weekend.
Things did not go according to plan for Smith and his ball club, though. The Bears dropped game one in a 1-0 standoff Friday night, a 10-2 thrashing on an overcast Saturday and an 8-5 dagger on a sweltering Sunday afternoon.
Game one was very much a stalemate, thanks to Baylor’s superior pitching and lack of offense, until the ninth inning. Kansas started and ended the series with late heroics, scoring runs in the final frame of game one and three to guarantee wins.
“They didn’t do anything to really lose the game and we didn’t do anything to win the game,” Smith said after game one.
Game three epitomized the Bears’ bad fortune this series. Even with a decent amount of offensive production, which has been the missing ingredient for the Bears this season, they still were not able to pull off the win.
The Bears’ last chance for salvation in the series came as late as the ninth inning of game three. Down by only one run, the Bears just needed to survive their defensive frame for one last crack at getting the tying or go-ahead run.
Senior closer Josh Michalec has done an exceptional job this season of closing out games, securing wins for the Bears on numerous occasions. He’s done as sturdy of a job as anyone in the country of fulfilling his role as closer.
However, Michalec has had few moments this season where the opposing team breaks through when he is on the mound, gutting the Bears another loss on the season. Game three was another one of those days for Michalec. Kansas proceeded to score four runs in the ninth inning; three of those runs came off Michalec. It certainly was the finishing blow.
The Jayhawks had the bases loaded with Michalec on the mound. KU slammed Michalec’s ball into the left field wall, past Daryn Sheppard, within one foot of the foul line. Just a foot or two to the left and the Bears live to fight another day, but the Jayhawks really put the series, and comeback win, beyond the Bears’ reach with that one huge play.
Baylor’s most successful batter Sunday, junior outfielder Adam Toth, went for a career high 5-for-5 outing, also scoring two runs.
“I was just seeing it good and just trying to stick to my approach at the plate,” Toth said. “The last few games I kind of got away from that and it was kind of frustrating, but [Sunday] I stuck with it and it worked out for me.”
Toth was one of many Baylor batters who pretty much did everything a batter could want, except accumulate runs.
Smith was pleased to give credit where he felt it was due after the series. Smith said he has always admired what Kansas head coach Ritch Price has done with Kansas’ baseball program. Smith said the team’s overall discipline, specifically in the infield, is one outstanding attribute of this Kansas ball club.
Kansas second baseman Colby Wright had a field day. Without the help of Wright’s athleticism and sheer skill to make some difficult throws at first, the Bears probably would have had much more than 16 hits on Sunday.
Kansas centerfielder Tucker Tharp earned three hits and five RBI Sunday, accounting for just over half of the Jayhawk’s runs. Without those hits from Tucker, it would have been completely different ballgame. It was his hit off Michalec that solidified the win for Kansas on Sunday afternoon.
“It was great to watch [Tharp] play today,” Price said. “He’s a team captain and now a three-year starter for us and that might be one of the finest games he’s played at the University of Kansas. Let’s be real, we have a two-run lead and he hits the two-out, three-run double in the ninth to close the door. We needed those to hang on to win today.”
Baylor baseball hosts Sam Houston State at 6:35 p.m today at Baylor Ballpark. On Wednesday, the Bears host Texas A&M – Corpus Christi at 6:35 p.m. at Baylor Ballpark.