Cunningham’s homer lifts Bears over Texas Southern 5-4

Freshman right fielder Davion Downey takes a swing Tuesday night in Baylor’s 5-4 home win over Texas Southern University. Josh Aguirre | Multimedia Journalist

By Max Calderone | Sports Writer

The Baylor baseball team (18-17) defeated Texas Southern (16-21) 5-4 Tuesday night at Baylor Ballpark behind a late-inning comeback.

A seventh-inning home run by redshirt junior designated hitter Richard Cunningham and an RBI insurance double from junior center fielder Cole Haring were the difference makers for the Bears as they clinched their fourth victory in five games.

Cunningham said he saw something low and slow in the zone and was able to drive it over the wall.

“I love that low and in pitch. I think it’s one of those pitches I can get my hands to,” Cunningham said. “I missed a fastball so I thought he was probably going offspeed, especially with a runner in scoring position. Grateful I got that pitch that was just high enough and I could get my hands to it.”

Redshirt freshman right-hander Jimmy Winston made his first career start for the Bears and ran into trouble early, surrendering back-to-back hits to open the ballgame. A 4-6-3 double play gave the Tigers a runner at third base with two outs before junior center fielder Ryan Diaz singled home the run to make it 1-0.

Baylor’s freshman shortstop Nick Loftin led off the bottom of the first inning with a walk, but was caught stealing to end the inning. The Bears’ first hit didn’t come until the bottom of the second, when freshman right fielder Davion Downey punched one through the left side with two outs, but was also caught stealing for the final out of the inning.

Winston settled back in and retired the Texas Southern side in order in each of the next two innings, but Baylor couldn’t cash in on a leadoff walk to Haring in the bottom of the third and still trailed by a run heading to the fourth.

The Tigers pushed across another run in the top of the fourth inning as junior right fielder Keanu Van Kuren sliced a single to right field, scoring junior first baseman Christian Sanchez for the second run of the night. Baylor sophomore catcher Shea Langeliers threw Van Kuren out at second base trying to steal to send the Bears back up to the plate.

Baylor got on the board in its half of the fourth, as sophomore third baseman Davis Wendzel reached on a sharp single through the middle and came all the way around from first to score on sophomore first baseman Andy Thomas‘s RBI double that pulled the Bears within one, at 2-1.

Redshirt senior right-hander Alex Phillips took over on the mound to start the fifth and worked a one-two-three inning for Baylor. The Bears couldn’t take advantange of two baserunners in the bottom half, leaving both Haring and junior left fielder T.J. Raguse stranded.

The Tigers extended their lead to 3-1 in the top of the sixth inning, as Sanchez blasted a solo home run over the left-center wall, his team-leading 12th of the season. Baylor left two more runners aboard in the bottom half, part of its eight total left on base.

In the top of the seventh, Loftin made an acrobatic play, spinning from his post at shortstop to throw out Van Kuren as part of another three up, three down inning for Phillips and the Bears used that as a turning point in the ballgame.

With the Bears back up to bat in the bottom of the seventh, Raguse reached on a walk and Loftin was hit by a pitch before Cunningham crushed a three-run shot to right field that put Baylor ahead 4-3. It was Cunningham’s fourth home run of the season.

Head coach Steve Rodriguez said it was a big moment for an older player on the roster to lead by example and put the team on his back.

“You want your upperclassmen to take the lead and do what you expect them to do in regards to having quality at-bats and leading the charge in hopefully getting a victory,” Rodriguez said.

From then on, Rodriguez turned the ball over to his two most dependable relievers, senior set-up man Drew Robertson and senior closer Troy Montemayor. Robertson worked a perfect eighth inning and picked up two strikeouts in his team-leading 17th appearance of the season.

Baylor would add one more in the bottom of the eighth on an RBI double by Haring that drove in Downey and made it 5-3.

Texas Southern didn’t go quietly though, rallying for three hits and one run off Montemayor in a bumpy top of the ninth. Nevertheless, “The Mayor” racked up three strikeouts, left the bases loaded and earned his eighth save of the season.

“Those two guys have been unbelievable,” Rodriguez said of Robertson and Montemayor. “Troy has done an amazing job in his career here. He lives on that edge and I’m willing to accept [those situations] because I know he can get out of it.”

Cunningham said he looks forward to seeing what the future holds.

“We know what’s coming ahead,” Cunningham said. “It’s an energy thing now. When you start winning and remembering what winning’s like, it becomes contagious.”

Baylor will return to the diamond at 6:35 Wednesday to face Arkansas-Pine Bluff p.m. before a weekend series with TCU begins Friday. Cunningham said the team is carrying a lot of momentum against them into the upcoming games.