By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
On a six-win tear, Baylor baseball will be back in action against the Mountaineers this weekend.
The last time Baylor saw West Virginia lefty Jackson Wolf on the mound, the Bears had three first-round picks in their lineup. And while Baylor (19-10, 1-5) got the conference opening sweep in 2019, they will be facing a more aggressive Mountaineers squad (11-12, 3-3) as the Bears return to Big 12 play this weekend.
“They’re an aggressive team. They have some really good pitching,” head coach Steve Rodriguez said. “We were just kind of looking at it, and the last time we faced Wolf, we had three first rounders in the lineup, with [Shea] Langeliers, [Davis] Wendzel and [Nick] Loftin. It seems like a long time ago, but obviously with last year being halted, we didn’t have an opportunity to see them. They’re aggressive in a lot of different ways. They run well. They pitch well. We’ve just got to make sure we can limit their opportunities to score.”
West Virginia boasts three lefties in its starting rotation who will go up against the Big 12’s top offense statistically, as the Bears are hitting .307 as a team, good for first in the conference and eighth in the country. Leading the pack at the plate, second-year freshman Jared McKenzie, who’s slashing a line of .354/.598/.407, said the young Baylor team learned a lot from its series losses against Texas and TCU and will be looking to minimize mistakes.
“I think a lot of it comes down to everybody’s going to be good,” McKenzie said. “Whoever we play going forward is going to be just as good as us. And we can’t make mistakes because when we make mistakes, they’re going to capitalize on them. Same with them, when they make mistakes, we’re going to capitalize. I think being able to minimize those mistakes and just play the game one pitch at a time is going to be beneficial.”
The Bears jumped back on a tear since getting swept by the Frogs, taking down Texas State 4-2 in a tightly contested game, throwing back-to-back complete game shutouts against North Carolina A&T to open a four-game sweep and pulling off an epic comeback win over UT Arlington on Tuesday. Senior closer Luke Boyd, who suffered his first loss since 2018 two weeks ago in Arlington against the Mavericks, picked up his fifth save of the season in the 7-6 win over UTA and said it was a big boost as the team heads back into Big 12 play.
“I mean, UTA they kind of left a bad taste in our mouth. No doubt you know, especially me — that’s, I think my first loss in three years or something like that,” Boyd said. “To get punched in the face a little bit right there in the second inning [on Tuesday], it kind of gave us a wake up call. But a come back win like that shows again, if we execute and get runners on and move them around, that we’ll be in good shape no matter who we’re playing, but that was a definitely good comeback win.”
Defensively, Baylor’s outfielders have become moonshot thieves, as they’ve each snagged possible home runs from opponents this season. Freshman left fielder Kyle Nevin and junior right fielder Davion Downey posted the No. 1 and No. 3 plays on SportsCenter Tuesday night with a couple of web gem plays. Flashing the leather on defense has become quite the competition for the Baylor outfielders.
“Actually, when [Kyle Nevin] made that play the other night, I said, ‘Yeah, that one was better than mine.’ He’ll get first place on that one, but mine’s still better than Davion’s. We all compete, and it’s fun out there, for sure,” McKenzie said.
The Mountaineers come to Waco off a 5-1 loss to Pittsburgh with a young squad, while also being boosted by several veterans anchoring the middle of the lineup. Fifth-year senior Hudson Byorick leads WVU offensively with a .339 average along with senior infielder Kevin Brophe who’s blasted five homers so far this season. Freshman infieder Mikey Kluska has impressed, pacing the Mountaineers with 30 hits and 17 RBI. Baylor could also see a strong offensive presence from returning players like senior catcher Paul McIntosh and senior second baseman Tyler Doanes, as well as junior outfielder Austin Davis and sophomore transfer Victor Scott, who co-lead WVU on the base paths with nine steals each.
Baylor’s hitters will take a possible first rounder in Wolf, who holds a 3-2 record and a 2.36 ERA after 34.1 innings pitched. The Gahanna, Ohio, native has 38 strikeouts on the year, giving up just nine earned runs. The Bears won’t have the luxury of allowing any miscues.
“The big thing, I think, is that some of our immaturity has shown over the past couple of weeks. We’re young in a lot of capacities,” Rodriguez said. “It’s like I was saying, the last time we played West Virginia, we had pretty stellar athletes who were full-grown men at that point. That’s what we’re continuing to develop. We’re young, but we’re talented, and we’re wanting those guys to take some of those immature moments, the young mistakes, and minimize them as best we can, to make sure we’re playing at a peak level on a consistent basis.”
Baylor and West Virginia will open the series at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Baylor Ballpark and the game will be nationally broadcast on ESPNU. The National Champion Baylor men’s basketball team will be throwing the first pitch.