By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
For the first time in 10 years, Baylor baseball completed a four-game sweep as the Bears took an 8-7 win over Memphis Sunday at Baylor Ballpark, extending their win streak to five games.
After facing the same team all weekend, head coach Steve Rodriguez said his team’s fortitude against a talented Memphis squad was a good sign for the Bears early in the season.
“It got dicey down the stretch because I think both teams were tired,” Rodriguez said. “It’s good for us to go through it. I think it’s a good test in regards to just a little bit of endurance and at the same time having to overcome some adversity down the stretch and not think that they were just going to roll over.”
The Bears were led offensively by second-year freshman Jared Mckenzie (3-for-5, two runs and a an RBI), JUCO transfer Jack Pineda (1-for-2, a stolen base, an RBI and two runs) and fourth-year juniors Davion Downey (2-for-4, a stolen base, an RBI and a run) and Chase Wehsener (2-for-4, two RBI and a run). Fifth-year senior catcher Andy Thomas also contributed with two RBI and a run. Second-year freshman Tre Richardson added two hits. The Bears had 14 hits and capitalized on three Memphis errors.
“Going to play four games on a weekend and winning all four is really tough to do,” McKenzie said. “To beat anybody four times is really hard to do. So, I just think that we kind of pushed those first couple weekends past us. We learned from them, and we’re starting to get the train rolling, which is exciting.”
It was almost a year to the day since senior righty Hayden Kettler graced the mound to pitch a baseball game. The Coppell native finished 4.2 frames, giving up three runs (two earned) on five hits and two walks while striking out five.
“I was looking at the calendar, and I think today is one day off from being exactly a year since I took the field,” Kettler said. “So, it’s just great to get back out there, and obviously there’s still some things I need to work on … I’m just excited that we were able to go out there and get through four innings. I tried to get through five, but like I told Coach in between innings, I want to win the game more than anything. So, whatever we need to do to put us in a position to win, that’s all I care about.”
Redshirt junior Jacob Ashkinos earned the win after coming in to relieve Kettler in the fifth, pitching 1.1 innings and allowing just one hit but no runs.
Baylor scored the bulk of their runs in the first four innings. Thomas hit an unassisted groundout to first to score Pineda in the first inning. In the second, Wehsener singled to right field and reached on an error, allowing Downey to come home. McKenzie followed with a single up the middle to score Wehsener.
Memphis got on the board in the top of the third when Tigers catcher Hunter Goodman bashed his second home run of the weekend to score designated hitter Ian Bibiloni and cut the lead to one. The Bears answered with two runs in the bottom of the frame on hits by senior third baseman Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo and Wehsener to score Thomas and redshirt sophomore left fielder Kyle Harper.
Baylor added two more insurance runs in the fourth when Thomas hit a sacrifice fly to score McKenzie, and Downey singled to drive in Pineda. Memphis added a run in the fifth to make a 7-2 game.
Pineda doubled in the seventh to score McKenzie and add more insurance for the Bears.
After a scoreless sixth, senior righty Logan Freeman took over for Ashkinos, keeping the Tigers off the board in the seventh but giving a run in the eighth when Memphis center fielder Zach Wilson hit a sac fly to McKenzie, allowing third baseman Alec Trela to score.
Fifth-year senior lefty Ryan Leckich came out to close the game but had a tough time, giving up two hits and three runs to the Tigers. With two runs already across for Memphis and a runner on second, senior closer Luke Boyd relieved Leckich, striking out Goodman for the first out of the ninth. Tigers shortstop Ben Brooks singled to bring Bibiloni home and make it a one run game.
Boyd served up a 1-1 pitch to Trela who grounded out into a double play sealing the win for Baylor and giving the senior his second save of the season.
“Whenever we get put into a situation where we can give Luke the ball late in the game with the lead, I’m very confident in him. He’s shown what he can do,” Kettler said.
The Bears have another bizarre week ahead as they’re scheduled to play another double header next Saturday against No. 11 LSU and UTSA at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge. According to Rodriguez, however, if an opportunity to play a regular weekend against a different opponent arises, Baylor would be glad to take it.
The next home matchup is set for 6:30 p.m. on March 16 against UTSA.