By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
Strike ’em out, throw ’em out! What better way to grab the opening win of a series as the Bears took a close 5-4 victory over Memphis on a Lubbock-level windy Friday night at Baylor Ballpark.
Fifth-year senior closer Luke Boyd notched his first save of the season with two strikeouts in the ninth inning. In a narrow call that was overturned in favor of the Bears, fifth-year senior backstop Andy Thomas gunned down Tigers center fielder Zach Wilson.
“That’s actually something that we work on, is making sure we make the tags in a quick manner, and Jack [Pineda] just did a great job at getting the tag on him,” head coach Steve Rodriguez said. “It’s kind of anticlimactic, ‘Did he? Did he not?’ Then all of a sudden we have to go and then the game’s over. And it would have been great if he would have made it, but [Memphis] probably would have challenged it anyway. Obviously, it was just a bang-bang play.”
Making his third and best start of the season, third-year sophomore Blake Helton picked up the win, pitching a career-high six innings and giving up just two runs, both earned, on four hits walking just one batter while throwing 59 strikes out of 80 pitches to total six strikeouts.
“I was just trying to throw a lot of strikes and let my defense play,” Helton said of his outing. “I wasn’t trying to do too much or strike anybody out. I was just trying to keep my pitch count low and not walk anyone.”
The Tigers didn’t waste time in the first inning as designated hitter Ian Bibiloni doubled in left fielder Jaylen Wilbon to give Memphis a 1-0 lead. A pop up to Helton and ground out to third later, Memphis got a single from catcher Hunter Goodman who advanced to third on the next hit but slipped on his way to home plate and was hunted down by Bears first baseman Chase Wehsener for the out to send Baylor to the plate.
Senior catcher Andy Thomas tied the game in the bottom of the frame, scoring Jared McKenzie on an RBI single. Then right fielder Davion Downey gave the Bears the lead driving in shortstop Tre Richardson and Thomas to make it 3-1 going into the second.
The Bears added another run in the bottom of the fourth as Downey doubled into shallow left field with the ball making a high looping drop near the line, and he scored on a sacrifice hit by McKenzie.
“It was pretty important to get up quick because they came out swinging the bats right away, and so we were like, ‘Let’s just take up another notch,’ … send a message now and keep the throttle down and just keep going,” Downey said. “And it was an ugly double, but I’ll take it. A double’s a double to me.”
Helton was nearly untouchable during the next four innings. It wasn’t until Goodman bashed a two-out solo homer over right in the sixth, catching a curveball up to cut the deficit to two. Jacob Ashkinos took over in the seventh, giving up a home run to Tigers third baseman Alec Trela, who’d struck out twice already.
Memphis starter Blake Wimberley, who took the loss, settled in and made the day harder for Baylor, finishing his outing after 6.2 innings, allowing five runs (all earned) on seven hits and four walks but also striking out six batters. Wimberley went deep for the Tigers, throwing 104 pitches, 58 of them strikes. Daniel Casto relieved Wimberley after a walk to transfer second baseman Jack Pineda and a ground out by Richardson in the bottom of the seventh.
“[Wimberley] got into a groove too, and that’s what Friday night guys are going to do,” Rodriguez said. “They found some things that started working, and he developed a couple of pretty good pitches as he was going, and tip your hat to him, but we kept getting to him and were able to get him out of the game.”
The Bears responded to Trela’s homer to give themselves a cushion. Senior third baseman Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo scored Pineda. With two outs and the bases loaded, Baylor had the chance to score with second-year freshman left fielder Kyle Nevin at the plate. Memphis brought out Walker Brockhouse to face Nevin, battling him to a full count and striking him out to end the inning.
Fifth-year senior lefty Ryan Leckich came out to pitch the eighth, walking Memphis second baseman Braden Webb to start the inning but causing a ground out to second by Wilbon for a double play. Pineda picked up the hit on a hop and tagged out Webb before making a tight throw to Wehsener at first. Bibiloni slashed a double to left field bringing Goodman to the plate. With a 1-1 count on the Tigers backstop, Leckich gave way to Boyd. Goodman singled and advanced to second on a throwing error by Richardson which allowed Bibiloni to score and make it a one-run game. A pop up to Pineda ended the frame.
Brockhouse held the Bears off in the bottom of the eighth, striking out Richardson with runners on the corners and sending Memphis back to the plate. Boyd started the ninth with three straight sliders, his signature pitch, for a strikeout. Then Wilson singled to center to give the Tigers life but a strikeout of Trela and a throw down from Thomas to Pineda, sho tagged the runner on the left foot just as he dove for the bag gave Baylor the win.
The Bears will be back at 2 p.m. Saturday for a double header against Memphis. Game one will be seven innings followed by a full nine in game two.