Baseball relying on experience and execution down the stretch

Freshman pitcher Tyler Thomas takes the plate in baseball’s closing game against TCU Sunday. The team won all three games over the weekend, making it a clean sweep. Jessica Hubble | Multimedia Editor

By Max Calderone | Sports Writer

As the 2018 season winds down, the Baylor baseball team is sitting squarely on the bubble of postseason play.

At 23-17 and 6-9 in Big 12 conference games, the Bears are relying on their experienced roster for leadership and execution down the stretch.

Head coach Steve Rodriguez said his team is keeping things simple and continuing to play their game, showing skill by winning seven in a row and nine of their last 10 games.

“That’s the biggest point I think we’re trying to get through is just focus on the process and let the result take care of itself,” Rodriguez said.

Heading into a weekend tilt with Kansas State, Baylor is coming off a 17-5 run-rule victory over Texas State on Tuesday night. Rodriguez said he was very pleased with his team’s performance, which included an 11-run seventh inning.

“What I really enjoyed about [Tuesday’s win] was the execution that our guys were really focusing on. It wasn’t a matter of just going up there swinging; a lot of different situations came up during that [11-run seventh] inning,” Rodriguez said. “When they just focused on execution they were able to reap some of the benefits along with getting hits and getting the RBIs and moving runners over. That’s what I was really excited about.”

Now the Bears find themselves in sixth place in the Big 12 standings, just half a game behind TCU. But Rodriguez isn’t looking at rankings or postseason projections. He said his team needs to take care of its business and focus on what it can control.

“I think the biggest thing for us is just to keep winning the baseball games,” Rodriguez said. “I have no control over any of those things. We have a goal in regards to the amount of wins we want to get to and then at that point, we leave it someone else’s hands and hopefully we’re on the plus side of that.”

During the seven-game win streak, the five-man combination of junior reliever Kyle Hill and seniors Joe Heineman, Alex Phillips, Drew Robertson and closer Troy Montemayor has stepped up big time of out the bullpen. The quintet known as ‘The Old Guys,’ a moniker given to them by pitching coach Jon Strauss, has collected a 7-1 record this year with a fantastic 1.89 ERA in relief.

“Everyone of those guys, Joe Heineman, Kyle Hill, [Drew] Robertson and obviously Troy [Montemayor] at the end of a game, I think you have five guys who we could put out there who I think all of us have phenomenal confidence in,” Rodriguez said. “Coach [Jon] Strauss always talks about “The Old Guys” and that’s just it; they’re old guys who don’t get rattled by a lot of things.”

Montemayor, who recorded his ninth save of the season and 35th of his career, told reporters after the TCU series that he has a wealth of confidence in his teammates.

“These guys are just veterans and they’ve been there,” Montemayor said. “There’s no situation you can put us in that we haven’t seen before.”

Also heating up have been the power-punching duo of sophomore third baseman Davis Wendzel and sophomore catcher Shea Langeliers. Wendzel has set a career-high with a 29-game on-base streak and Langeliers has reached base in five straight games, including a 6-for-14 stretch with two home runs.

As for this weekend in Manhattan, Kan., Rodriguez said the Bears will need to prepare for the unique conditions in their attempt to win three games over the Wildcats.

“It’s going to be windy, like it always is it seems like,” Rodriguez said. “We just need to make sure we play our baseball game. They’re going to be tough just because they’re playing at home, playing on turf. If we play like we did [Tuesday] and just focus on our execution, I really like our chances.”

Baylor and Kansas State will begin the three-game set at 6:30 p.m. tonight, with game two scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday and the series finale to follow at 1 p.m. Sunday.