By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
It took four hours and six minutes to decide; it took 11 innings and a combined 15 pitchers, but for the first time in program history, Baylor baseball is the Phillips 66 Big 12 Tournament champions.
The Bears rallied from a 4-3 deficit to tie the game in the ninth and then rallied for two runs in the 11th to claim the title.
TCU sophomore reliever Austin Boyles (0-2) came in to pitch the 11th inning, allowed two hits, but walked three, including sophomore first baseman Andy Thomas to tie the game at five.
Sophomore catcher Shea Langeliers then worked a 3-0 count from Boyles, before finally delivering the walk-off single to center on a 3-2 fastball, punching the Bears’ automatic bid into next weekend’s NCAA Tournament with a 6-5 win.
Before the final hit, TCU appeared to have the game, the title and the automatic berth in its grasp just to watch it slip away.
After, senior outfielder A.J. Balta hit the go-ahead two-run shot to center field off junior Kyle Hill in the eighth, giving TCU a 4-3 lead, Baylor had just the right amount of magic to answer in the ninth.
Facing junior closer Durbin Feltman, the first two Baylor hitters were retired.
Freshman shortstop Nick Loftin then hit a sky-high fly ball to shallow center that dropped in front of a diving Johnny Rizer, allowing Loftin to get to second.
Then redshirt designated hitter Richard Cunningham drilled a high fly ball to right field that looked routine, but Balta lost the ball in the sun, as Loftin raced home to tie the game.
Cunningham was thrown out at third, sending the game into extra innings.
Then in the 11th and Baylor senior closer Troy Montemayor on for his third inning of work, redshirt sophomore third baseman Conner Shepherd took a 3-2 cut-fastball and lined it in to right field for the Horned Frogs’ second go-ahead hit of the game, claiming a 5-4 lead.
In the bottom half of the frame, junior second baseman Josh Bissonette walked to lead off the 11th and took second on a ball in the dirt.
Cunningham then singled to right, but Balta, who had done the job with his offense all tournament-long but had lost the ball in the sun in the ninth, delivered a strike to home plate, gunning down Bissonette and keeping TCU in front 5-4.
Despite being reviewed, the play stood and TCU was one out away from the title.
But walks to sophomore third baseman Davis Wendzel and Thomas set up the game-winning blow by Langeliers.
The Bears came up with big late game heroics, but after the first inning, it didn’t look as if they would be necessary.
Baylor came out of the gate, took advantage of a throwing error, a free pass to Cunningham and then watched Wendzel blast a three-run home run down the left-field line, putting the Bears in front 3-0.
But TCU chipped away with solo shots from senior outfielder Conner Wanhanen in the second off of sophomore starter Hayden Kettler and Balta in the third inning off redshirt freshman Jimmy Winston, cutting the lead to 3-2.
Baylor used five pitchers, beginning with Kettler who allowed one run on three hits in two innings. Winston allowed the one hit and one run in two innings while striking out three.
Senior Joe Heineman worked around a one out triple in the sixth to post two scoreless innings, striking out two in the process. Hill then went two innings, allowing two runs, both on the Balta blast to center, with one strikeout.
Montemayor (2-1) made his first appearance of the tournament and made it count, pitching three innings, allowing one run, one hit and one walk while striking out one.
Baylor (36-19) becomes the automatic qualifier from the Big 12 while TCU (33-23) will await tomorrow’s selection show for its postseason fate. The NCAA Selection Show will air at 11 a.m. on ESPNU.