By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
There’s no place like home, and after 356 days, Baylor baseball returned to the banks of the Brazos for something other than an intersquad, shutting out Sam Houston State 4-0 Tuesday night.
“It’s great to get on the road versus an opponent, but there’s nothing like playing at home,” fifth-year senior backstop Andy Thomas said. “Your own box, your own batter’s eye, your field, your dugout — just a completely different feel and it was much needed for the entire team.”
It was a defensive battle as head coach Steve Rodriguez sent out his bullpen’s best for a midweek tuneup. The six-year head coach said he was really happy with how his pitchers performed Tuesday night.
“The big thing is, it’s just like everything. The more you do something, the better you’re going to get, the better feel you get,” Rodriguez said. “You have to get that adrenaline rush and understand how to control it, and that’s what they’re doing. So I was really happy with how our bullpen, and even Logan Freeman came out and just gave us a great couple of innings. It was exactly what we wanted him to do.”
Third-year senior righty Logan Freeman started the afternoon with a swinging strikeout of Sam Houston shortstop Jackson Loftin (no relation to former Baylor shortstop Nick Loftin) but gave up a walk to center fielder Colton Cowser in the following at-bat and then balked to advance him to second. Bearkats first baseman Jack Rogers popped up to Baylor shortstop Tre Richardson, who then tagged the bag to get Cowser for the unassisted double play.
Sam Houston starter Dominic Robinson sent the Bears down in order in the bottom of the first.
Freeman was back out in the second, sending Bearkat designated hitter Christian Smith back to the dugout with a popup to second but then loaded the bases with back-to-back singles and a walk. The Buffalo native got out of the jam with his second strikeout of the game and a flyout to right field, ending his outing allowing just two hits and two walks over two innings with no runs.
Fifth-year senior righty Jimmy Winston took over in the top of the third, pitching the next 2.2 scoreless frames allowing just three walks, while striking out two against the 10 batters he faced. Thomas ended the frame nailing down Rogers as he tried to steal second in a close call. Even with how solid the pitching looked for the Bears today, Winston said there are still some things the Bears need to work on.
“The bullpen came out guns blazing,” Winston said. “I still think we had too many walks, but for the most part we threw strikes and made pitches, and on top of that, we had a really good lineup that gave us some support.”
Second-year freshman Hambleton Oliver relieved Winston in the fifth to grab a strikeout and end the inning.
Cleaning up their weekend miscues, the Bears’ defensive prowess continued in the top of the sixth, as right fielder Davion Downey made a leaping catch at the wall to rob Rogers of a home run. Senior third baseman Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo picked up a sharply hit ball down the third base line for the 5-3 putout, and Oliver followed with another throw to first on a blooper in the shallow infield to close out the frame.
After being held scoreless by Robinson for four innings, Baylor finally broke through against Bearkats right-handed reliever Matt Rudis in the bottom of the sixth Thomas smashed a two-run homer straight over center field, his second of the season. The senior catcher said he feels he’s developed more power at the plate over the years.
“The first pitch blew by me a little bit,” Thomas said. “I think he had a little bit more in his fastball than we had anticipated. So after I missed that first fastball, swept through it, I just knew I had to get my foot down and made pretty good contact with it. Over the years, I’ve gotten stronger and stronger, and this year I feel pretty strong at the plate, so when I connect with the ball, it’ll travel a pretty good distance. But it felt great off the bat. I was in much need of it.”
Baylor wasn’t done in the sixth as second year freshman left fielder Kyle Nevin singled and was then driven in by Cardoza-Oquendo.
Fifth-year senior lefty Ryan Leckich took the mound in the seventh to relieve Oliver and get a pop up to first to get the final out of the frame. He returned in the eighth for a 1-2-3 inning that included a 5-4-3 double play by the Bears infield.
Not to be left behind, Richardson blasted a solo bomb in the bottom of the eighth to put Baylor ahead 4-0.
Fifth-year senior righty Luke Boyd came out to close the night off with back-to-back strikeouts and a ground out to third.
The Bears will be back Friday to kick off game one of four against Memphis in their first home series of the season.