By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
Tyler Thomas has undergone a transformation. He’s always had the stuff, but now it seems like he’s gained more confidence as the fourth-year junior shut out Memphis through six innings Saturday in game one of the double-header.
The Bears took a 9-0 win to start the day and bulldozed the Tigers in game two with a 20-4 victory. Head coach Steve Rodriguez said he was happy to see Thomas continue to be consistent on the mound.
“I’m just really happy for him. I’m happy for our team, obviously, just because he’s probably been one of the most consistent guys coming at the beginning of this crazy season,” Rodriguez said. “He’s gone through a myriad of different things, and then he has the surgery, and just like everything else you’re like, ‘How’s this going to affect everything?’ Watching him go out there and do what he’s been doing has just been a delight. Not only for me but for our program. You can see the energy he has when he pitches, and guys love being around him. It’s like he’s a totally different kid.”
The Keller native allowed just two hits and three walks while striking out nine of the 22 batters he faced, tying his career-best.
“Honestly, everything is working,” Thomas said. “Past three starts this year have been great. I have great control over the changeup, curveball, fastball. Didn’t really need to use the slider today just because of the lineup matchup, but I’ve been working with Strauss a lot, and everything is on.”
Four of the five pitchers to see the hill for Baylor stifled the Tigers’ offense on Saturday with just four runs allowed by freshman lefty Cam Caley in the fourth inning of game two after putting up three scoreless frames.
Defensively, the Bears put up several big plays, keeping Memphis off the board in the third inning of game one with a swift relay from left center to short to home, where senior catcher Andy Thomas made the tag on Tigers left fielder Jaylen Wilbon on the cut from second-year freshman shortstop Tre Richardson.
“We practice that all the time,” Richardson said. “They’e usually going to go first to home because that’s one of the deeper parts of the ballpark. So it was just a matter of lining myself up and trusting my ability to be able to get there to home plate. Luckily, Andy makes my job a lot easier whenever you skip balls to him.”
After putting up nine runs in game one, the Bears offense took the opportunity to capitalize on many of Memphis’ blunders in game two, exploding in a six-run fifth and an eight-run sixth after trailing 4-3 through four. Baylor’s 20 runs in game two were the most scored by the Bears since facing Omaha in the 2019 Los Angeles Regional where they put scored 24.
Richardson went 4-for-6 across both games, driving in three RBI and crossing home five times.
“Their pitcher started getting a little wild on the mound, and we just knew how to capitalize on it,” Richardson said.”Keeping it simple, just trying to hit the ball back up the middle and having an approach when we go up to the plate.”
Second-year freshman center fielder Jared Mckenzie continued his hot streak, leading off game two with his fifth home run of the season and recording the first triple of his career to start the third. The Round Rock native also showed off his defensive ability with a stunning catch in center, crashing against the wall to end the frame.
After a scoreless seventh, Baylor added three more runs to cap off the day in the bottom of the eighth. The final at-bat for the Bears was one of the highlights of the night as fifth-year senior pitcher Ryan Leckich stepped into the batters box to pinch hit. Although Leckich struck out, Rodriguez and Richardson noted it was still a fun moment.
“I have a rule, and I’ve had it ever since I’ve been a head coach: if you score 20 runs, I usually find the oldest pitcher and ask them if they want to hit,” Rodriguez said. “Some of them don’t want to. They think they do until the opportunity arises and then they say, ‘Nah, I’m good.’ But I gave him the opportunity, and he went out there, and the fact that he took strike three is probably more frustrating, and he is not real happy with himself. But that’s part of it, and it’s fun and exciting. When you score 20 runs, you should be able to have the freedom to do some stuff like that.”
The Bears will attempt to complete their first four-game series sweep since facing Louisiana Tech in March of 2011. Originally scheduled for noon, the final game of the series will now start at 1 p.m. at Baylor Ballpark.