By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
A day after picking up its first Big 12 Tournament win under head coach Steve Rodriguez, Baylor baseball helped him collect his second win Thursday afternoon at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City, Okla.
The Bears did all their damage in the first three innings, hitting three home runs and tallying 11 hits in knocking off the upset-minded and eighth-seeded Kansas Jayhawks 10-5 to advance in the Big 12’s Division One Championship.
Rodriguez said it was another excellent all-around performance from his team.
“I thought it was a great game for us. We were able to continue to have quality at-bats,” Rodriguez said. “Hayden [Kettler] got better as the game went on, and that’s huge. That’s hard to do in an environment like this.”
Against Oklahoma, sophomore Cody Bradford shutdown the Sooners; on Thursday, it was sophomore right-hander Hayden Kettler, who kept the Bears’ opponent at bay.
Kettler (8-4) went seven innings, allowing just one run on three hits with five strikeouts.
Once again, the Baylor offense got going early and it got Hayden plenty of support, scoring two runs in the first and second and then exploding for six in the third.
In the bottom of the first, freshman shortstop Nick Loftin walked and redshirt junior outfielder Richard Cunningham singled to put two men on with nobody out. A fly ball to deep center field, allowed both of them to advance and sophomore first baseman Andy Thomas delivered a two-run single to left-center as Baylor grabbed an early 2-0 lead.
After the Jayhawks got one back following a double and then an RBI groundout, Baylor responded with two more.
Loftin was hit by a pitch, reaching base for the second time in as many innings, and scored on a double by Cunningham. Sophomore catcher Shea Langeliers then singled to center, scoring Cunningham and putting Baylor in front 4-1.
In the third, Baylor used the big swings, connecting on three two-run home runs in a six run inning.
Junior outfielder Cole Haring led off with a walk then junior second baseman Josh Bissonette placed one in the bullpen in left field, putting the Bears up 6-1.
Junior outfielder T.J. Raguse then reached on a Jayhawk error and Loftin deposited another ball into the bullpen in left-center field for an 8-1 lead.
Finally, Thomas walked and Langeliers drilled a two-run shot down the left field line, as Baylor grabbed a commanding 10-1 lead after three innings.
Despite getting runners into scoring position in each of the next three innings, Baylor was unable to tack on any insurance runs—and Kansas used those missed opportunities and turned them into a rally of its own.
The Jayhawks sent eight men to the plate and scored four runs off of senior reliever Joe Heineman in the top of the eighth inning.
The inning opened with a walk to senior first baseman Owen Taylor and then freshman infielder Skyler Messinger doubled off the base of the wall in left-center, putting runners on second and third.
Heineman was then able to retire the next two batters, but a wild pitch and an error by Thomas scored a pair for the Jayhawks.
Senior catcher Tanner Gragg took advantage of an extra out, drilling a two-run home run to left field, cutting the deficit to 10-5, and forcing Rodriguez to turn to junior Kyle Hill to finish the inning.
Hill got the final out of the eighth on a routine fly ball to center field and then worked around a leadoff walk in the ninth to put an end to any kind of Jayhawk rally.
Baylor (34-19) will now get a day off tomorrow and will take on the winner of Kansas and Oklahoma at 9 a.m. Saturday.