By Jeffrey Swindoll
The weather was perfect and the results followed suit as Baylor baseball opened its season with a three-game opening weekend sweep over No. 13 Cal Poly at Baylor Ballpark.
Last season spelled distinct difficulty on offense for the Bears. Baylor looked to change its fortunes at the plate this season. The Bears got off to swinging the bats effectively and frequently on opening weekend. Baylor scored at least six runs in all three games against Cal Poly, combining to outscore the Mustangs 22-12 over the weekend.
Early leads helped Baylor in each game, putting the pressure on Cal Poly’s pitching staff all weekend long from the get-go. Sophomore designated hitter Darryn Sheppard smacked a double off the center field wall on the first pitch of the first game of the series. Sheppard’s lead-off hit set the tone for what the rest of the series would contain.
Senior outfielder Logan Brown added to Sheppard’s success with plenty of fortune at the bat over the weekend. Brown hit 4-for-8 with two runs, one double, one triple, six RBI and five walks.
The Bears worked with what they were dealt by the pitchers. In all three games, the Bears scored just about as many runs as the hits they earned.
“Our guys, even guys on the bench, are doing the right things,” junior infielder West Tunnell said. “You can go up there thinking, ‘I’m going to hit the ball real well.’ Well, the game’s asking you to hit a groundball to second base. The first night we had like four runs with four hits and the other team’s scraping together four runs with 12 hits. If you do it the way the game asks you, it’s pretty easy.”
Former closer Josh Michalec surpassed Baylor’s all-time saves record last season, leaving big shoes to fill for Baylor’s current pitchers. However, senior closer Sean Spicer stepped into that role over the weekend and showed no drop-off from Michalec’s stellar form in 2014. Spicer posted a 0.00 ERA in his first two save attempts on Friday and Saturday on the way to being named Big 12 Co-Pitcher of the Week.
Baylor had a couple veteran players out of the lineup over the weekend, forcing Baylor head coach Steve Smith to place some players on the field for the first time in their careers.
Development of the ball club’s depth and versatility were tested over the weekend, Smith said. Players like freshman pitcher Theron Kay and sophomore pitcher Troy Montemayor aided the Bears’ culmination of the young and old contributed over the weekend.
“We had a freshman and sophomore on the mound [Sunday], with Kay making his debut,” Smith said. “Troy doesn’t lack for confidence. I don’t know if all of our pitchers turn around and look at the radar gun but Troy does – he was motivated by it – but he pitched well. I like a lot of what he does, he’s got a little bit of moxie about him, and when he got out there and was successful, I think he energized the whole club.”
Overall, the series was thrilling to watch, Smith said, attributing many big plays on offense and defense that kept fans entertained and involved in the games from start to finish.
Moving forward, the Bears have a lot to hang their hats on from the series against Cal Poly. The Bears faced challenging times on Friday and Saturday. Both of those games hung in the balance until the final frame.
A sample of the Bears’ finishing ability was under the microscope specifically on Saturday when Baylor gave up a two-run home run, eventually leading to Cal Poly taking a 6-5 lead on the back of five unanswered runs from the Mustangs. Baylor’s pitching and hitting contributed to the three-run push to seal the series with an 8-6 win on Saturday.
In addition to Baylor’s poise in pressurized situations, the Bears showed their struggles at-bat over the past two years may very well be a thing of the past. There is still a long season ahead, but the optimism in the ball club is evident after a successful opening weekend in front of the home fans and a sweep over a ranked opponent, Tunnell said.
The Bears get right back to playing at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday against Dallas Baptist.