By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
Baylor baseball hasn’t been on an eight-game win streak since the beginning of the 2019 season, but the Bears have now won eight straight at home, moving to a 10-4 record, after a three-game sweep of Xavier. The Bears dropped the artillery on the Musketeers, opening the weekend with a 7-3 win on Friday, taking the series with an 11-4 victory on Saturday and shutting down Xavier 10-0 on Sunday.
Baylor was firing on all cylinders on the mound, at the plate and in the field. Fifth-year righty Hayden Kettler went deep on Sunday, tying his career-long in innings pitched with seven scoreless frames, only giving up two hits while striking out seven. Righties Logan Freeman and Jacob Ashkinos came in to close the day with two hitless innings. The trio of veterans combined for 108 pitches, with only 26 of them being called outside of the zone.
“It makes it really hard on hitters whenever they’re constantly having at-bats where they’re down in the count and not getting pitches to drive,” Kettler said. “It think it just goes to show that you don’t have to overpower guys but you can kind of finesse inside and out and get the job done that way.”
Fourth-year junior Tyler Thomas started the opening game Friday, going six innings, giving up three runs on six hits and a walk — but also striking out nine batters, tying his career-high. Freeman earned the win Friday, setting up senior closer Luke Boyd for the scoreless, hitless ninth in which he allowed just one walk and grabbed a strikeout and a flyout to right field to wrap things up.
Redshirt senior Jimmy Winston took the win Saturday out of the bullpen, throwing 4.2 innings after relieving third-year sophomore Blake Helton. Winston gave up just two runs on three hits and tallied five strikeouts. Second-year freshman Hambleton Oliver capped off the win Saturday, giving up just one hit and striking out Xavier catcher Natale Monastra for the final out.
The Bears were hot at the plate, lacing 37 hits across the series (six doubles, two triples and three home runs), seeing production up and down the lineup and outscoring the Musketeers 28-7. Baylor has gotten used to stringing together late-inning rallies as Xavier took short leads halfway through both Friday and Saturday’s games. Tied 3-3 in the opener, the Bears struck with a four-run eighth. Baylor attacked with the same mentality on Saturday when they were down 4-3 after the sixth, coming back with a lucky-seven-run seventh inning and tacking another run in the eighth to ice it.
Fifth-year senior catcher Andy Thomas, who smashed his 11th career home run on Sunday, said the Bears were working on wearing Xavier’s starters down to put more pressure on the Musketeers’ bullpen.
“We’re just waiting to get to that bullpen as soon as we can break open,” Thomas said. “That’s what the late inning shenanigans going on right now are — just getting to a bullpen, seeing a guy that only has two pitches, maybe not three. That’s kind of what’s going on. Now, if that’s our identity, we’ll own it … We’ll do that all season long.”
Second-year freshman outfielder Jared McKenzie may not have had as explosive a weekend at the plate as he usually does, going 5-for-10 with three runs, two RBI and a triple, but he showed hustle on defense. The Round Rock native had a sliding catch in shallow center field to end the third inning Saturday and robbed Xavier shortstop Kody Darcy of a homer by basically climbing the wall for the first out of the fourth.
The weekend also saw several firsts for a lot of Bears as freshmen Alex Gonzales, Cam Caley and Nolan Rodriguez tallied their first career hits. Gonzales had a career day in his first start Saturday, going 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBI. The speedy Rodriguez, son of the head coach, pelted a triple in the eighth inning Saturday for his first career hit.
“Those are really cool moments as a coach because it kind of takes a little bit of pressure off the kid to get a hit,” Coach Rodriguez said. “Those are really neat moments because there’s only a couple firsts … Pretty soon you start running out of firsts when it comes to those things.”
Caley, who’s mainly seen time as a pitcher this season, put up his first career hit on Friday night as a pinch hitter to bring in Baylor’s sixth run of the night. Caley also made his first start in the outfield on Sunday, chasing down a couple of difficult fly balls for outs and smashing his first career home run over the right field wall.
“[Caley] hit the ball well and put the bat on the ball well and got himself a little home run,” said fourth-year junior outfielder Davion Downey, who also had his first home run of the year on Sunday, 11th of his career. “He watched it really nicely.”
The sweep bodes well for Baylor as they get ready for the start of conference with two midweek games against UTSA and Prairie View A&M. The Bears will face off against Texas next weekend, playing a conference series for the first time in two years. Rodriguez said if the Bears continue to limit mistakes and stay consistent, he likes their chances.
“If we’re going to be someplace, the way we played today is a really good spot,” Rodriguez said after Sunday’s win. “We played really good defense, offensively we really executed well, and on the mound, I really like what we’re seeing, and we just have to continue to do that.”