Baseball continues home stand after confident sweep over Easter weekend

Transfer shortstop Jack Pineda picks up a grounder during Baylor's 7-3 win over North Carolina A&T Saturday. DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

As the Baylor men’s basketball team was dominating in Indianapolis on its way to a national title, the Baylor baseball team was dominating at home. The Bears put up back-to-back shutouts and outscored North Carolina A&T 25-4 in a four-game sweep. It was a much needed reset after two tough series loses to conference foes Texas and TCU as well as a midweek road loss to UT Arlington, whom the Bears will host tonight at Baylor Ballpark.

“You know in the past couple of weekends we’ve faced probably two of the best pitching staffs that we will face this year in Texas and TCU,” head coach Steve Rodriguez said. “And our guys are really young — we’re a really young team — but I’ll tell you what, I’m really impressed with how our guys are going about their business. They’re continuing to work hard. They’re really not settling for some of the things that they’re doing. What’s great is they want to be coached, and that’s just making my job easy.”

The Baylor pitching staff has been essential in the Bears’ success this season. In the last five games, the pitching staff combined for a 0.84 ERA and held opponents to a .174 batting average. Fourth-year junior Tyler Thomas and third-year sophomore Blake Helton pitched complete game shutouts on Thursday and Friday, marking the fourth and fifth shutouts of the season for the Bears, good for first in the conference and second in the nation.

Baylor also saw masterful performances from redshirt senior righty Jimmy Winston and a continued consistency out of the bullpen by senior relievers Ryan Leckich, Logan Freeman and Luke Boyd. Boyd said the sweep was a great confidence boost as the Bears head back into conference play.

“It shows that when we execute, we can play with anyone,” Boyd said. “When it comes to the Big 12, especially with some home games coming up, we’re very comfortable playing here, so we need to take advantage of that and protect this house. We just got to keep the energy up and keep doing our jobs and keep executing on both sides of the plate.”

Boyd, who was tabbed as a preseason All-American for his 2020 performance as the Bears’ closer, hasn’t had many save opportunities this season with the amount of run support Baylor has served up on a silver platter. The Bears lead the Big 12 at the plate with a .306 batting average, good for eighth in the country. Their 290 hits through 28 games hold the No. 2 spot nationally behind Arizona (295 hits in 26 games). Six of Baylor’s top hitters are connecting for .300 or better.

“I mean, yeah, especially compared to last year, almost every game was a save opportunity,” Boyd said. “It is nice, a little more comfortable, to see the team put up runs. It has been mostly towards the late innings, so I’ve been having to stay locked in all the way up to the seventh or eighth inning when they put up a six or seven spot. But I like winning, so whenever they score runs, that’s a good sign and helps us win.”

The Bears are also woking on doing the little things right defensively, committing just two errors over the last five games. The infield also put up five double plays, four of them during Saturday’s double header opener. Rodriguez said the coaching staff puts a lot of emphasis on keeping the defense sharp.

“When we have a weekend like this where their team is going to hit a lot of ground balls, we want to make sure that we can pick it up and throw it across the diamond, which we were able to do really well this weekend,” Rodriguez said. “I’m really happy with what I’ve seen with Jack [Pineda] and Tre [Richardson] up the middle, in regards to their ability to turn double plays, and [Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo] just did a great job at third base.”

Baylor will look to avenge Boyd’s only tabbed loss of the season, hosting the Mavericks at 6:30 p.m. tonight. The game will be broadcast on Big 12 Now (ESPN+) with John Morris, the Voice of the Bears, on play-by-play and Pat Combs on color analysis. Derek Smith will call the radio broadcast on ESPN1660/92.3 FM.