By DJ Ramirez | Sports Writer
HOUSTON – Baylor baseball competed in the Shriner’s College Classic at Minute Maid Park this weekend, making their first road trip of the season.
The Bears’ early eight game win streak came to an end with losses to Texas A&M (5-2) and Rice University (6-3) on Friday and Saturday. They came out victorious against Texas State in a 5-4 ninth inning comeback win on Sunday.
Fifth year center fielder Richard Cunningham led off for Baylor with runs in all three games, doubling in his first at-bat against A&M on Friday, tripling to start the bottom of the fifth against Rice and sending a 1-0 fastball into the right field bleachers for a solo home run against the Bobcats. Cunningham said Texas State starting pitcher Connor Reich had some good off-speed pitches, so he was glad to get that fastball early.
“I’ve had a lot of good pitches this week that I just barely missed. I’ve taken some good at-bats and had some bad at-bats as well, but then I finally got a 1-0 fastball early on in a game from a guy whose best stuff is his off-speed stuff,” Cunningham said. “I was lucky that he left one over the middle of the plate and got into it. He had a ton of good stuff and he got me a couple other times but I’m glad to get him early.”
The Bears put up two runs in the top of the first, but the Bobcats answered with two of their own in the bottom of the inning.
Texas State doubled their lead in the fourth with runs off wild pitches from freshman right-hander Anderson Needham who’d taken over for junior starter Cody Bradford. Sophomore righty Jimmy Winston came in to get Bobcats shortstop Dalton Shuffield to hit into a 5-4 double play and end the inning.
After a scoreless fifth, junior third baseman Davis Wendzel singled on an error by Texas State third baseman Jaylen Hubbard and advanced to second on a fielder’s choice single by sophomore right fielder Davion Downey. Junior designated hitter Andy Thomas got his first hit of the season with an RBI single to score Wendzel.
The seventh and eighth were scoreless and Baylor found themselves in the top of the ninth, down one run with two outs. Cunningham was back at the plate facing Bobcats reliever Brent Hebert in an eight pitch at-bat and was able to come through with a ground-rule double. Sophomore shortstop Nick Loftin hit an RBI single to tie the game and then scored from first on an RBI double from Wendzel, putting the Bears ahead by a run.
Downey got the first out in the bottom of the ninth with an unreal jump at the end of the home bullpen. Senior closer Kyle Hill struck out the final two batters to get the win.
Cunningham said the turning point of the game for Baylor was having Winston and sophomore righty Daniel Caruso come in to keep Texas State off the board.
“It felt like we were out of wind and out of gas and then [Winston and Caruso] came in and kind of reestablished some momentum and just put together really good innings,” Cunningham said. “Andy [Thomas] being a veteran and getting that RBI was just enormous and kind of narrowed the window. … There’s a lot of moments that really defined that game and that win.”
Baylor needed that win after falling 5-2 to A&M on Friday and 6-3 to Rice on Saturday. The Bears faced a challenge in Aggies junior pitcher John Doxakis who threw eight innings for A&M on Friday, allowing four hits but only one earned run and striking out 12 Baylor batters.
Junior righty Hayden Kettler started for the Bears on Friday but wasn’t able to keep the Aggies off the board.
On Saturday, sophomore lefty Tyler Thomas began the game with a 1-2-3 inning but struggled in the second, allowing a two-run homer off the bat of Rice’s left fielder. Junior lefty Paul Dickens took over in the third.
The Owls added a run in the third and two more in the fourth. Baylor put up three in the fifth to cut Rice’s lead to two runs, but the Owls iced their win with a run in the eighth, shutting down Baylor in the ninth.
Baylor head coach Steve Rodriguez said the biggest takeaway from the team’s first road trip was they need to be at their best form beginning to end.
“I think one of the biggest things for us is that we learn that we can come back from deficits. We got to make sure that we’re on point from the first pitch to the last pitch and that our bullpen just did a really good job for us throughout this whole weekend,” Rodriguez said.
The Bears will face UT Arlington at 6:35 Tuesday at Baylor Ballpark before a weekend series against Nebraska.