By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
Baylor senior pitcher Nick Lewis was hoping to begin postseason play better than he concluded the regular season.
Pitching five days after his shortest outing of the season against Kansas State where he lasted just two innings, allowing nine runs on 10 hits with two walks, Lewis was hoping today would be different.
Unfortunately for Lewis and Baylor, he was greeted with similar results, lasting just one inning in a resounding 11-1 loss to West Virginia in 8 innings in the first round of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship.
Lewis allowed seven runs on six hits with two walks and did not record a strikeout.
This is not the first time the Mountaineers have gotten the better of Lewis this season. In Baylor’s Big 12 opener, West Virginia tagged Lewis for five runs on 10 hits with three walks in four innings of work in a 7-1 win at Baylor Ballpark.
The loss triggered a stretch where Baylor went 5-10 over a 15 game stretch and lost four consecutive series, including the Mountaineers, Oklahoma, Washington and Texas Tech.
Lewis never quite got his rhythm going on the mound for Baylor. He allowed consecutive singles by sophomore second baseman Kyle Gray and sophomore catcher Ivan Gonzalez to start the frame, putting runners on first and third with nobody out. After a sacrifice fly put West Virginia up 1-0 and a pickoff at first base, Lewis and the Bears were just one out away from avoiding a disastrous first inning.
In that moment, Lewis’ control, as it has been at times this season, became a problem for him and began what Baylor head coach Steve Rodriguez said was the landslide.
“His command was not very good. It was pretty simple. You give up one run in the first inning and have nobody on. We were able to pick up a guy. We got two outs,” Rodriguez said. “We were missing spots and getting balls in the dirt or getting behind hitters and offensive counts. They did a good job of hitting ground balls, line drives and constantly putting the pressure on. Unfortunately, that one bad inning was just kind of hard to recover from.”
After Lewis hit the next batter on a 1-2 pitch and walked the next West Virginia hitter putting two runners on with two outs, three consecutive singles by the Mountaineers each brought in a run. Another walk loaded the bases for West Virginia and Gray delivered the knockout punch, clearing the bases with a three-run triple into the corner in right field, putting the Mountaineers up 7-0.
West Virginia added a run in the third and fourth and finally two more in the eighth to complete the run rule win for the Mountaineers.
All but one West Virginia starter had a hit. Redshirt sophomore shortstop Jimmy Galusky had three hits and two RBIs, Gray, Gonzalez, sophomore third baseman Cole Austin and junior left fielder Kyle Davis each had two hits apiece while Gray drove in three runs.
Galusky said the seven run inning was huge, not just for the game and against Baylor but moving forward into the tournament.
“I think not only for the rest of the game, but I think the rest of the tournament kind of start off on the right foot,” Galusky said. “It gives us confidence going into tomorrow.”
Opposite of Lewis, West Virginia freshman Isaiah Kearns had no issues on the mound. He went the distance for the Mountaineers, allowing just one run on three hits. He did not allow a walk and he struck out six.
West Virginia head coach Randy Mazey said that Kearns’ performance was not only remarkable in and of itself but it also helps the team moving forward since he was able to go the distance for the Mountaineers.
“That’s as good a pitching performance as the Mountaineers have had this entire season,” Mazey said. “To go out and do what he did coming off a short week, it enable us to get through the first game without using any the bullpen and turn around the weekend starters. It’s just unbelievable what he did today and kudos to him. “
The lone thorn in the side for Kearns was Baylor sophomore center fielder Richard Cunningham. Cunningham had two of the Bears’ three hits including a single in the first and a double in the seventh inning. He scored Baylor’s only run of the game after being moved to third on a fly ball from freshman catcher Shea Langeliers and scored on a groundout by junior outfielder Kameron Esthay.
Kearns said he was simply trying work the strike zone and keep Baylor off balance.
“I was trying to command the zone, throw strikes and get ahead in counts. I didn’t do that the whole game but, I worked through it and battled it out,” Kearns said. “The game plan was not to let them hit the ball, but sometimes it happens and fly balls are outs too so we’ll take them.”
Baylor (34-20) will now have to play its way out of the Loser’s Bracket of the Big 12 tournament. It will take on the No. 1 seed Texas Tech at 9 a.m. Thursday.
West Virginia (33-22) will get the No. 8 seed Oklahoma State at 4 p.m. Thursday.