By Jeffrey Swindoll
He’s been the backbone of Baylor success this season. He’s bailed out his team 16 times on 17 save chances, and yet, it was only his first season as the closer in his entire career. It was a near perfect season for senior closer Josh Michalec. Baylor head coach Steve Smith said the numbers speak for themselves in terms of how effective Michalec was in 2014.
“I think it’s two things that make Josh special,” Smith said. “I think it’s the fact that he’s throwing strikes with multiple pitches, and I think it’s the fact that he’s a pretty good athlete. For him to have done it this year with zero coming in, and in one year, you set a school record with 16 out of 17 chances so far, and 16 of our 20 wins, that is really remarkable.”
Michalec surpassed Zane Carlson’s 15 saves in a season Wednesday against Texas A&M Corpus Christi to claim the school record, a record that had stood since 2000. Michalec now stands at fifth all-time in the Big 12 list. With six games remaining on the season, Michalec has a chance to extend his record even higher.
“A lot of pride goes into our team and throughout the years we’ve had a lot of successful guys come through this program and it does mean a lot,” Michalec said. “The fact that I can do it with my best friends, you know, the guys on the team is a special thing.”
Michalec’s unprecedented success became the team’s saving grace after showing poise in high pressure situations early on. Originally playing as relief pitcher for the Bears, it took some time and adjusting for him to accept his new role. Michalec earned the trust of his team.
“It was almost a year ago where he’d get you to the lip of the cup and he just couldn’t finish it, and this year he did just the opposite. He finished everything,” Smith said.
Even with the slimmest of leads in crucial situations, Michalec pulled through as the prototypical closer for the Bears this season.
When Smith would walk out to the mound to take the ball from a fatigued pitcher late in the game, players could look over to the bullpen gate and breathe a sigh of relief as they watched No. 26 jog into the field and take the mound with confidence.
“I think it’s his mind-set,” junior outfielder Adam Toth said. “He’s got good stuff up there. I’d take him in the bottom of the ninth inning on the mound trying to win a ballgame for us over anybody in the country. He’s got the stuff to do it.”
Michalec has brought certainty and comfort to the team in his role as the closer. Michalec has become the Bears’ trump card at the end of games.
Baylor knows its best chance at sealing the deal for a win is with Michalec on the mound, throwing the final pitches.