By Jeffrey Swindoll
Baylor baseball has been on a bit of a rough stretch over the last few weeks. The Bears picked up just one win in the 12 games leading up to their Big 12 home opener against West Virginia this weekend at Baylor Ballpark.
Baylor (9-14, 2-4) got back on track after taking the series 2-1 over West Virginia (10-10, 2-4) with a 5-4 win on Friday and a 10-4 win on Saturday and an 8-2 loss on Sunday. With many circumstances causing Baylor head coach Steve Smith to mix and match with his lineup, the Bears did very well for themselves in the series against West Virginia, Smith said.
“I just like the way that guys who hadn’t been getting a lot of time because of injuries and stuff like that were able to get in, and create, for all intents and purposes, in a makeshift lineup,” Smith said. “That doesn’t always happen, but that’s what needs to happen. When you’ve got guys down, you need guys to step up and that’s what happened.”
Baylor enjoyed its at-bats, cracking plenty of hits across the series and scoring often. Although it did have its few shaky performances, the pitching was solid from the Bears, Smith said.
Friday started quickly for the Bears with an RBI single from sophomore first baseman Aaron Dodson in the first inning followed by three runs in the second inning, putting the Bears up 4-0. WVU equalized later on, but the Bears scratched out the go-ahead run.
Baylor’s pitching staff closed well, securing the first win in Big 12 play for the Bears.
“Hat’s off to Joe [Kirkland] and [Sean] Spicer, particularly Joe, who got better the longer he was out there,” Smith said. “He really seemed to dial it up after we had to get [Darryn] Sheppard out of the game. That can really be a big undoing right there when you see your guy go down, but Kirkland really got it together and made some good pitches.”
Senior closer Sean Spicer extended his scoreless appearance streak to a career-high four appearances on Friday. Spicer pitched three innings at relief for senior pitcher Joe Kirkland who relieved sophomore starter Castano of his duties. Kirkland also pitched three shutout innings for the Bears.
Game two’s pitching did not start off as strong as the Bears finished game one though. Senior pitcher Austin Stone walked two players home in the top of the first. Stone’s rocky start had him taken out before the inning was over. It could have gotten ugly but junior right-hander Kody Hessemer came in with the bases loaded and got the final out for the Bears. Hessemer ended the day with four strikeouts.
Baylor’s offense responded with the most runs they have scored in an inning (5) this season. It was the start of a double-figures day for the Bears. Baylor posted 10 runs and 14 hits on Saturday. By the third inning, it was 8-4 and the Bears did not let go of the lead for the rest of the game.
Game three completely went in the other direction for the Bears. WVU starter Chad Donato pitched eight innings and only gave up two runs. The Bears had a hard time connecting the ball with the bat in game three and the Mountaineers finally found the cracks in Baylor’s defense, but it was a little too late in the series.
Though he pitched a career-high in strikeouts (6) on Sunday, sophomore Drew Tolson allowed six runs off seven hits in the series finale. Three of those runs came off a three-run homer from West Virginia’s Ray Guerrini for a 4-0 lead.
The Bears never recovered from it. Tolson has yet to win a game after four empty appearances this season. Smith said he still saw a lot positives from Tolson despite the Mountaineers’ frequent lighting up of the scoreboard on Sunday.
“Donato was pretty good for them [in game three], and they got a couple real timely hits,” Smith said. “Drew was pretty good himself for us. He gave up the run-scoring double with two outs, and then the three-run home run with two outs, which was a pretty good blow to the gut. Other than that he was pretty good. We really fought hard to get a timely hit.”
The Bears return to action for a midweek tilt versus UT-Arlington (12-9, 4-2) at 6:30 p.m. tonight in Arlington.