Baylor bats, bullpen carry Bears into Big 12 Championship game

Baylor senior Alex Phillips warms up on the mound in Baylor's 17-5 win over Prairie View A&M on March 26. Phillips pitched 5 1/3 innings of relief to send Baylor to the Big 12 Tournament championship game. Baylee VerSteeg | Multimedia Journalist

For the first time since 2010, Baylor baseball is going to play for a Big 12 Tournament championship.

After enjoying a day off, the Bears scored the final seven runs of the game to break a 3-3 tie and eliminate Oklahoma with a 10-3 win to advance to Sunday’s championship game.

Baylor head coach Steve Rodriguez said he wants his team to go through and understand all of the emotions that come with going to a title game because they will experience similar emotions next week in the NCAA Tournament.

“I want these guys to get these feelings and to know what it’s like, to go through these moments because there’s an adrenaline rush, there’s nerves, there’s excitement. All of those things are very important because we’re going to go into regionals next week and they need to know what that feels like,” Rodriugez said. “They need to know that they can power through something like this against some of the best teams in the country. Being able to get these feelings, regardless of what happens tomorrow, to know what it’s like is huge. I can’t coach that.

Senior Alex Phillips (7-1), who entered with two outs in the fourth inning, was brilliant in relief of freshman lefty Tyler Thomas.

“My job is to get that guy that’s in the box out and that’s how I approach it. I have a lot of confidence in my stuff right now,” Phillips said. “It was a big moment but it didn’t feel like a big moment for me, I knew I was going to get that guy out.”

Phillips tossed the final 5 1/3 innings, allowing just one hit and one walk while striking out seven and completely shutting down the Sooners’ offense.

Thomas lasted just 3 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits. He struck out six, but walked five, often struggling with his command and prompting Rodriguez to turn to his bullpen.

Baylor struck first with a run in the top of the second inning and similar to Wednesday’s win over the Sooners, the Bears capitalized off an Oklahoma error.

With one out, freshman outfielder Davion Downey walked and then advanced to second on a balk by starting pitcher, senior Devon Perez.

After battling at the plate and fouling off four pitches with two strikes, junior outfielder T.J. Raguse hit a ground ball deep in the hole between first and second base. Senior second baseman Kyle Mendenhall ranged over to his left and then threw it wide of the base as Perez couldn’t corral the throw, allowing Downey to score and Raguse to take second.

The Sooners had an opportunity to even the score in the second. Mendenhall led off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Thomas then issued a walk to put two runners on, but struck out both freshman first baseman Cade Cavalli and junior outfielder Domenic DeRenzo to end the inning.

Oklahoma would tie the game at one in the third. After a single by junior infielder Brylie Ware, freshman catcher Justin Mitchell then tripled to right-center, bringing Ware in.

Baylor was fortunate for no further damage, as sophomore catcher Shea Langeliers caught a man stealing prior to the run-scoring triple and then a sliding catch into the wall in foul territory by Downey ended the inning.

Downey then helped the cause offensively in the fourth, drilling a two-run shot to right field, putting Baylor up 3-1.

Oklahoma wasted little time, returning the favor against the Bears in the bottom half of the inning.

Thomas allowed a leadoff walk and then another free pass with two outs. With a pair of men on, junior infielder Cade Harris turned on a pitch and hit a two-run triple off the top of the wall, tying the game at three.

After a routine fifth inning for both pitching staffs, the Bears would strike for three runs in the sixth to take the lead for good.

Raguse gave Baylor a 4-3 lead as he walked with the bases loaded. Senior outfielder Levi Gilcrease then delivered a two-run single to right as the Bears went up 6-3.

“I think it was really big for our team,” Gilcrease said. “My first two at-bats weren’t great, [but] I was relaxed, I was confident in that at-bat and I was locked in and I was able to sneak it through the four-hole.”

Baylor added some insurance for Phillips down the stretch, adding two runs in both the eighth and ninth.

In the eighth, it was freshman shortstop Nick Loftin delivering a two-run single for the Bears. In the ninth, Langeliers added an RBI single and the final run came in on a sacrifice fly by junior second baseman Josh Bissonette.

Baylor (35-19) has now won five straight games overall and will face TCU in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship game at 1 p.m. Sunday.