By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
Under the bright lights of a big-league stadium and the cheers of a mostly hostile crowd, Baylor baseball swept the SEC to earn the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic tournament crown with a 3-2 victory over No. 13 Arkansas on Sunday night.
It was the first time the two teams met since the Razorbacks put an end to Baylor’s magical 2012 season in the Waco Super Regional eight years ago. This time, it was the Bears’ turn to crush the Hogs’ hopes of leaving Texas with a win as they had been upset by their Big 12 opponents on Friday and Saturday.
The win over then No. 6 Arkansas came after Baylor pulled out a 6-4 comeback victory over No. 11 LSU and a 4-2 win over Missouri on Friday morning to open the weekend. After being victim to a no-hitter by Oklahoma’s Dane Acker on Sunday, the Tigers also dropped in the rankings to No. 21. Overall the Big 12 went 6-3 against the SEC during the Shriners Classic.
Baylor head coach Steve Rodriguez said in the postgame press release he was really proud of his team’s performance against three tough SEC opponents.
“Coming into the season we knew we had the pieces, but with the injuries we had in the fall it was just how will all those pieces fit together,” Rodriguez said. “We are starting to see how they fit together. We will continue to play the right way and go about our business the right way.”
Senior closer Luke Boyd continued to build on Baylor’s legacy of strong closers, garnering three saves over the weekend for a total of five this season. Boyd only allowed one hit through the last three games, with two strikeouts recorded in each save.
The Bears had a stellar weekend on defense, specifically against the Hogs on Sunday to backup starting senior righty Hayden Kettler, who shutout Arkansas through five innings with four hits and five strikeouts. Hogs star outfielder Heston Kjesrstad flew out to center field where Baylor freshman outfielder Jared McKenzie dove and tumbled to grab the second out of the third inning.
Then in the fourth, fellow freshman Kyle Nevin took a leap at the wall in left field to rob Razorbacks catcher Casey Opitz of a possible double and then almost threw out infielder Jacob Nesbit at second. The inning ended when third baseman Cole Austin hit a line drive straight at Baylor third baseman Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo who picked up the hit on a dive and threw it to first for the out.
Senior catcher Andy Thomas showed runners he meant business behind the plate, catching a runner stealing on both Saturday and Sunday. Thomas established his arm against the Bayou Bengals right away when he threw out LSU backstop Alex Milazzo in the first inning after Milazzo earned a walk off of Baylor freshman lefty Evan Godwin. Then on Sunday, while bouncing a low pitch off the dirt, Thomas gunned down Hogs left fielder Braydon Webb in the sixth.
Offensively, the Bears pounded out six home runs over the weekend. Senior right fielder Mack Mueller hit a bomb into the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park to break-up a 2-2 ballgame against Mizzou in the sixth inning. He then came back to add some insurance in the eighth with another homer that just cleared the line.
On Saturday, three bombs over left field facilitated the Bears’ comeback against LSU. Junior shortstop Nick Loftin drove a no-doubter into the train tracks to put Baylor on the board with a two-run shot that also brought in sophomore second baseman Ricky Martinez. First baseman Chase Wehsener put another in the Crawford Boxes to make it a one-run game and then Martinez took the lead with a two-run shot that also brought in McKenzie.
To ice the sweep for Baylor on Sunday, junior designated hitter Davion Downey slashed a solo homer into the second deck of the right field stands to make it a 3-0 game against the Razorbacks.
The Bears will look to build off their weekend in Houston with a midweek tilt against Texas State at Baylor Ballpark. The game has been moved to 3 p.m. Tuesday due to possible inclement weather.