By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
The University of Nebraska had the win in their back pocket before Baylor could even record an out as the Bears dropped the season opener to the Huskers 19-9 Friday night at Baylor Ballpark.
Nebraska plated 11 runs in the top of the first inning, taking advantage of three Baylor errors to blow open the game. It took the Bears 42 minutes to come out for their first at-bat.
Head coach Steve Rodriguez said it was one of the most “bizarre” first games he’d ever been a part of.
“It wasn’t pretty by any stretch,” Rodriguez said. “You got to tip your cap to Nebraska — they did a good job putting the ball in play. You know, first game jitters for quite a few guys. There were some things that were, to be honest, inexcusable in regards to some of the mistakes we made. But at the same time, I was really proud of how our guys just continued to hit, continued to throw some punches along the way.”
Redshirt junior Jimmy Winston took the loss in an uncharacteristic start, giving up five hits, two walks and nine runs, seven of them earned, and throwing just 32 pitches before redshirt junior righty Jacob Ashkinos was called out of the bullpen to relieve him.
Ashkinos finally got the Bears out of the half-inning, but not before allowing two more runs. The righty was able to find a rhythm, remaining in the game for four innings, recording five strikeouts, four walks and only allowing one more run in the third.
A total of seven Baylor pitchers took the hill Friday night as freshman lefty Jack Hattrup took over for Ashkinos in the fifth, but suffered an injury in his catching arm during his warm up and was immediately replaced by sophomore righty Anderson Needham. Needham threw for two innings, giving up two more earned runs, four walks but also grabbing a strikeout.
Freshman righty Hambleton Oliver and sophomore righty Blake Helton pitched the seventh and eighth respectively, in which the Huskers brought in five more earned runs on six hits. Senior righty Logan Freeman closed out the night for Baylor with a scoreless ninth and added one last strikeout.
Offensively, the Bears only had three less hits than the Huskers (16-13) but left nine runners on base. Nebraska starter Gareth Stroh, who got the win, threw 5.1 innings with four strikeouts and one walk, giving up five runs, four of them earned.
Junior right fielder Davion Downey grounded out to second base for an RBI to drive in senior catcher Andy Thomas and put Baylor on the board in the bottom of the second. Sophomore first baseman Chase Wehsener, who’d advanced to third on Downey’s hit, scored run number two on an RBI out by senior left fielder Mack Mueller.
Baylor saw good things out of its freshman center fielder Jared McKenzie, who not only nabbed two great catches on the defensive, but also hit 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. The Round Rock native scored on a Nick Loftin double in the bottom of the third. Loftin, the junior shortstop for the Bears, grounded into a double play in the fifth, but was still able to bring in sophomore second baseman Ricky Martinez for run number four.
Then on the first pitch of the bottom of the sixth inning, Wehsener sent a no-doubter over the left field wall, effectively bringing an end to Stroh’s time on the mound. The second-year starter said he was just hunting for a fastball early.
“The at-bat before I was beat on the inside fastball so I was looking to jump on the first pitch, really, and I hit it well,” Wehsener said. “It’s the cleanest ball I’ve hit in a while, so it definitely felt good. But not the result we wanted tonight. Hopefully we can come out tomorrow and flush this and get a dub.”
The Bears added four more runs in the eighth thanks to RBIs by Martinez, McKenzie, Loftin and Thomas but were shut down in the ninth to give the Huskers the victory.
Baylor will be looking to even out the series at 2 p.m. Saturday at Baylor Ballpark.