By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
After taking a 7-4 win Saturday to even up the series against Oral Roberts, Baylor Baseball dropped the rubber match 4-2 Sunday at Baylor Ballpark. The Bears are 4-3 seven games into the season.
Baylor played two clean defensive games over the weekend after an uncharacteristic performance Friday, with only a throwing error in the column on Sunday, and pitching remained strong for the Bears. Although Baylor wasn’t able to get it going offensively to close out the series, head coach Steve Rodriguez said he was happy with what he saw out of the defense.
“Friday was just a bad day on defense for us but the big thing they have to understand [is] baseball, it’s going to come right back the next day defensively,” Rodriguez said. “I really like how our guys play defense and we just made a throwing error today … it was kind of a weird deal, but our guys are fine defensively.”
Senior righty Hayden Kettler took the loss Sunday after starting the day with three scoreless frames. However, Golden Eagles left fielder Jordan Wiley got a good piece on 3-1 pitch for his third homer of the weekend. Center fielder Hunter Swift then doubled to score catcher Tanner Lindsly and scored on an RBI single by second baseman Ryan Cash to spell the end of Kettler’s outing.
After five innings, six hits, three earned runs and a strikeout, Kettler gave way for redshirt junior Jacob Ashkinos to take over on the mound. Bears senior catcher Andy Thomas gunned down Cash at second for the second out of the fifth and a fly out sent the Bears on offense.
Senior right fielder Mack Mueller finally got the Bears a run with his first homer of the season in the bottom of the fifth. Then, after a 1-6-3 double play ended the top of the frame, freshman center fielder Jared McKenzie cut the deficit to one run in the sixth. The freshman, who has reached base in every game this season, was bunted over to second by sophomore second baseman Ricky Martinez and then advanced to third on a wild pitch. As Lindsly searched for the ball that had rolled away to the wall, McKenzie grabbed the opportunity to come home.
After a scoreless seventh, Oral Roberts came out swinging to add a run in the eighth. Ashkinos got the first out of the inning when Cash attempted to bunt third baseman Anthony Martinez over to third but popped up to the pitcher instead. However, Denny singled to advanced his third baseman who was then driven in by Hall on a double and a throwing error from right field.
Andy Thomas grabbed the second out with a pickoff of Denny at third to putout his second runner of the day just after junior lefty Tyler Thomas came to relieve Ashkinos. Tyler Thomas then walked Wiley prompting Rodriguez to call senior righty Logan Freeman out of the pen. Freeman closed out the inning with a groundout to third which transfer third baseman Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo snatched on a dive. Rodriguez said since both Thomas and Freeman had pitched Saturday the coaching staff didn’t want to leave them in the game for too long and risk getting them into trouble.
With the Bears trailing by two runs as they entered the ninth, senior closer Luke Boyd took over to wrap up the game. A hopper to third notched the first out and then Boyd struck out Lindsly and Swift to give the Bears one more chance on offense but they weren’t able to string anything together in the bottom of the inning.
The Bears had fared much better during Saturday’s matchup, evening up the series with seven runs on 11 hits and flawless defense.
Andy Thomas blasted his second home run of the season to tie for the team lead with redshirt sophomore first baseman Chase Wehsener. Thomas, junior shortstop Nick Loftin, Mueller and Martinez combined for six RBI. Thomas, who’s become an excellent gap hitter the past couple of years and led the Big 12 in doubles last season, said he had been working on expanding his gap-hitting tendency to his power hitting.
“Once you start to get comfortable at the plate you start thinking I can probably shoot the gaps even further and into home runs,” Thomas said. “I’m not going to work on home runs. I’m just working on hitting the ball in leverage counts harder every time and I think that it’ll result in a couple more home runs. I’m just going to keep shooting the gaps and see where it goes from there.”
After Thomas got Baylor on the board with his two-run bomb in the second inning, Martinez and Mueller drove in two runs each in the bottom of the third for a 6-0 lead. Wiley put the Golden Eagles on the board in the fourth with a solo homer and added another moonshot in the seventh after outfielder Blake Hall had started the frame with a homer of his own.
Evan Godwin earned the win in his first collegiate start, throwing six innings and not allowing a hit until there were two outs in the third. The freshman struck out a season-high four batters and gave up four runs on five hits and a walk.
“I’ll tell you what. Really excited for what Evan Godwin did out there,” Rodriguez said. “He threw a couple innings in a tight game against Nebraska last week. Really happy and proud of what he did that day. We wanted to make sure we gave him an opportunity today. He absolutely did exactly what we wanted him to do. Ran through it and did really well. He did hit a couple barrels. The great thing is, he didn’t walk many which was a blessing for us. He forced them to swing the bat.”
Freeman took over for Godwin in the seventh to get the Bears out of the jam, allowing only one more run to come in after a walk and wild pitch, but the senior was able to get Baylor back to the dugout with a strikeout and line out.
Tyler Thomas delivered a 1-2-3 eighth and Boyd nabbed his first save of the season with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Baylor will look to bounce back with a midweek tilt against UT-Rio Grande Valley at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Baylor Ballpark as they prepare to make the trip down to Houston for the Shriners College Classic next weekend. The Bears will face a stacked group of Southeastern Conference teams in what is basically a challenge between the Big 12 and the SEC. Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas will be up against Arkansas, LSU and Missouri during the three-day tournament taking place at Minute Maid park.