Story by Ben Everett | Sports Writer, Video by Elisabeth Tharp | Broadcast Reporter
Baylor baseball picked up its third straight win with a 14-4 drubbing of Arkansas-Pine Bluff Wednesday night at Baylor Ballpark.
The Bears (19-17, 3-9) have now won five of their last six games after going 3-9 in a 12-game stretch to end March.
Baylor head coach Steve Rodriguez said ups and downs come naturally during baseball season.
“Being able to keep up the intensity, keep up the energy,” Rodriguez said. “Making sure our guys understand that its a long season. As long as they continue to want to improve and get better at this game, I like where we’re gonna be.”
Junior designated hitter Richard Cunningham led the way with a 3-for-5 night with three runs and four RBIs.
Sophomore pitcher Ryan Leckich made his second start of the season, and got off to a hot start with two strikeouts in a scoreless first inning.
In the bottom of the first, freshman shortstop Nick Loftin walked and Cunningham singled to advance Loftin to third base. Loftin made it home on a wild pitch to give Baylor a 1-0 lead.
A sacrifice fly from sophomore first baseman Shea Langeliers drove in Cunningham to extend Baylor’s lead to 2-0 at the end of the first inning.
The Golden Lions got on the board in the top of the second with senior center fielder Sergio Esparza knocking in a double and subsequently scoring on back-to-back groundouts to first to make it a 2-1 game.
After junior second baseman Josh Bissonette and junior left fielder T.J. Raguse each walked, Cunningham stepped to the plate and delivered a three-run homer to give the Bears a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the second inning.
Later in the inning, sophomore third baseman Davis Wendzel followed with his own home run and freshman right fielder Davion Downey and junior center fielder Cole Haring each notched RBI singles to give Baylor an 8-1 edge.
With runners on first and second, Bissonette stepped up for his second at-bat of the inning and launched a double to left field, scoring Downey and Haring to extend the Bears’ lead to 10-1.
Leckich said his job is easier when the Bears’ offense is as effective as it was on Wednesday.
“You love seeing the offense work behind you,” Leckich said. “You can go out there and relax and just pound the zone and the defense will work behind you.”
After three straight scoreless innings for both teams, Leckich was replaced with sophomore pitcher Luke Boyd in the top of the sixth inning. Leckich finished with one hit and one run surrendered in five innings pitched with a career-high seven strikeouts.
Rodriguez said Leckich’s performance earned him more playing time than they expected.
“Sometimes some of these kids just need a little extra time out there,” Rodriguez said. “We didn’t expect for him to be out there that long, but we’re happy he kept his pitch count down for us and he went five innings and did a good job for us.”
In the top of the seventh, the Golden Lions had runners on first and third with just one out, but Boyd came up with a clutch strikeout and Downey ran down a foul ball to keep the score at 10-1.
The Bears padded their lead in the bottom of the seventh with Raguse and Cunningham each picking up RBI singles to make it 12-1. Sophomore catcher Andy Thomas dropped in an RBI double down the right field line to extend the lead to 14-1.
Freshman pitcher Collin Garrett took the mound in the top of the eighth, making just his third appearance of the season, but was quickly replaced by junior pitcher Collin Sharp after giving up three walks to load the bases.
Sharp surrendered two singles and a sacrifice fly before the Bears’ defense picked up the final out on an outfield throw to home plate as Baylor held a 14-4 lead.
Loftin moved from shortstop to pitcher in the ninth inning to close things out for the Bears and seal a 14-4 win.
Baylor hosts TCU in a weekend series starting at 6:35 p.m. Friday at Baylor Ballpark.