Story by DJ Ramirez | Sports Writer, Videos by Elisabeth Tharp | LTVN Sports Director and Julia Lawrenz | Broadcast Reporter
The Baylor baseball team opened up conference play with a sweep of the West Virginia Mountaineers, giving them a 3-0 record in the Big 12 and placing them at second in the standings behind Oklahoma.
The Bears mounted two huge come-from-behind wins as well as their fourth shutout of the season. Head coach Steve Rodriguez said that getting the sweep to start off conference play was very important.
“Every win in conference is important. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sweep, if it’s one win, if it’s two wins. I mean, getting a sweep obviously, the more wins you can get the better it’s going to be for you,” Rodriguez said. “So just outstanding job by our guys. Anytime you can sweep anybody it’s a big deal.”
Reminiscent of their 2018 Big 12 Tournament championship win, the Bears opened up conference play with a 6-5 walk-off win over the Mountaineers off the bat of junior third basemen Davis Wendzel.
The California native said although he felt the team could have played better, getting the win was still very important.
“That’s huge,” Wendzel said. “We could have played a little bit better, but a win’s a win. A walk-off win is huge, and especially a Big 12 win is huge.”
Junior catcher Shea Langeliers led Baylor at the plate in the opener going 4-for-5. He finished the weekend 6-for-14 with three RBIs and a double in each game. The Gold Glove backstop, who returned from injury two weeks ago, once again proved why he’s a juggernaut behind the plate with a fielding percentage of 1.000, 23 total putouts, six assists and four caught stolen bases. Langeliers said he enjoys being behind the plate, guiding the pitchers to put zeros up and anticipating the runners’ moves.
“I love catching. I love being able to control the game and helping the pitchers out,” Langeliers said. “I’m always anticipating that [the runners] are going to go and Coach Ruben [Noriega] told me that West Virginia is a really impressive team. They have been all three years that I’ve been here, so I was anticipating everything that they had.”
In just his second Friday start of the season, junior transfer Paul Dickens threw six innings, four of them scoreless, allowing five runs on six hits and striking out nine, a career-high. Redshirt sophomore Jacob Ashkinos and junior lefty Ryan Leckich delivered two more scoreless innings and senior closer Kyle Hill was sent in to finish the game.
West Virginia took an early lead with a two-run homer off the bat of first baseman Marques Inman, but the Bears responded with two runs of their own in the bottom of the inning when senior center fielder Richard Cunningham tripled to left center field, scoring sophomore shortstop Nick Loftin. Junior designated hitter Andy Thomas then plated Cunningham by grounding out to second.
The Bears took the lead with a run in the third, but a big fifth inning put the Mountaineers on top once again. Back-to-back bunted singles and a walk loaded the bases for Inman to once again clear the bases, this time with a double.
Baylor started to chip away at that lead with a run by freshman first baseman Chase Wehsener on a sacrifice fly by Wendzel.
The Mountaineers junior starter Alek Manoah was relieved by their junior closer Sam Kessler in the eighth and an RBI single by senior second baseman Josh Bissonette scored Langeliers to tie the game.
The Bears put away West Virginia’s offense in the top of the ninth with a laser putout from Langeliers to tag West Virginia’s second baseman Tyler Doanes out at second. The catcher had already caught shortstop Tevin Tucker stealing with a pitchout in the seventh. Rodriguez said Langeliers’s defensive ability is why he’s one of the best players in the nation.
“That’s why he’s back there, that’s why he’s one of the best catchers in the country. That’s why he’s one of the top prospects in the country, for that very reason,” Rodriguez said. “When he’s throwing the ball down there, 1.81, 1.82 [seconds], and guys are still running when the middle fielders still have the baseball, it puts our minds at ease…It’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen as a coach, and really happy to have him on our side.”
In the bottom of the ninth, Loftin singled to right field and advanced to second on another sac bunt by Cunningham and slid into home to beat the throw off of Wendzel’s walk-off single up the middle.
Baylor returned on Saturday with bats blazing and a dominant performance by the pitching staff to shutout the Mountaineers 12-0 and take the series.
Sophomore righty Jimmy Winston, making his second weekend start, pitched six scoreless, allowing only two hits and striking out four. Redshirt sophomore Daniel Caruso came out of the bullpen for two innings allowing only one hit, and freshman two-way player Brooks Helmer made his first pitching appearance of his collegiate career, putting away the side to close the game. The Bears were led offensively by senior outfielder Cole Haring who went 4-for-5 with five RBIs and two home runs, taking the team lead in bombs with four.
Rodriguez said he was happy with the all-around performance of the team on Saturday.
“I thought we played amazing defense. Thought Jimmy Winston and our bullpen did a phenomenal job of limiting a really good offense in West Virginia to three hits,” Rodriguez. “Then the offense. … The ability to keep hitting the ball hard is all I ask. I tell them, you can’t have control after that.”
Baylor had a hard time to start off the final game of the series. Leckich made his first start of the year but the Mountaineers were quick to get the junior, who has done some of his best work in relief. West Virginia posted three runs off two hits in the first inning to take an early lead.
West Virginia junior righty Kade Strowd gave the Bears some trouble, throwing heat and allowing only one run in the second inning, but Baylor’s offense eventually wore him down with a six run, two-out rally in the seventh inning highlighted by an almost bases clearing double from Langeliers.
Thomas then extended the lead in the eighth with a three-run shot over right field, marking his first home run of the year, to put Baylor on top for a final score of 10-4. Thomas said he was excited to get his first homer of the season.
“It felt great. I got a changeup high and hit it, and I was like ‘Please let the wind take this one out’ and was pretty fortunate to get that one over the fence,” Thomas said.
The Bears will play a two-game midweek series against Texas Southern on Tuesday and Wednesday at Baylor Ballpark before hopping on a plane to Lawrence, Kansas to continue conference play against the Kansas Jayhawks who were swept by Oklahoma in their Big 12 opener.