By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
After picking up its first Big 12 series win in almost two years with a 7-4 win on Saturday, Baylor baseball was unable to sweep West Virginia Sunday, dropping the rubber match 8-4.
Baylor was able to come back for a victory on Saturday thanks to some big defensive plays as well as the veteran bullpen pitching, which kept WVU scoreless in the last five innings, giving senior righty Jimmy Winston his team-leading fourth win of the season and senior closer Luke Boyd his third straight save this week, seventh of the season.
The defensive prowess the Bears showed on Saturday was shifted toward the Mountaineers Sunday, as WVU’s outfield hunted down what would have been several extra-base hits for the Baylor, a big element in avoiding the sweep.
“I thought our guys did a really good job in a lot of different capacities with putting the ball in play. And I told them after the game I really do think their outfield won the game for them,” head coach Steve Rodriguez said. “I think they made four or five plays today that took extra-base hits away from our guys … they just did a great job. You tip your hat to them. They came out, took a lot of runs from us in the outfield and [Ben Hampton] did a good job making some pitches. But I was proud of our guys for how we continue to battle until the very last out it was, it was good to see.”
Senior righty Hayden Kettler took the loss, allowing six runs (four earned) on seven hits, two walks and a hit-by-pitch, while putting up five strikeouts. WVU freshman lefty Ben Hampton took the win, giving up just three runs (all earned) on four hits and two walks while striking out four.
The Bears took an early two-run lead in the first inning on sacrifice fly by freshman second baseman Tre Richardson to bring in transfer shortstop Jack Pineda. Senior catcher Andy Thomas followed up with a sac fly of his own, allowing freshman outfielder Jared McKenzie to come home. In the fourth, junior right fielder Davion Downey smacked one to right field to drive in Thomas, but a tag on designated hitter Cade Currington at home plate relegated the Bears’ lead to 3-0.
West Virginia finally managed to wear down Kettler in the fifth, putting up three runs on a two-RBI single by second baseman Tyler Doanes and a sac fly from center fielder Victor Scott. The Mountaineers doubled their lead in the sixth, taking the lead with a single off the bat of DH (former MCC Highlander) Vince Ippoliti and adding some insurance on a two-run bomb by first baseman Matt McCormick, who also homered on Saturday.
Second-year freshman Hambleton Oliver took over for Kettler in the sixth, going 1.2 innings and allowing one run (earned) on one hit, two walks and a wild pitch while striking out two. Oliver picked up both his strikeouts straight out of the pen in the sixth inning and caused Doanes to ground out to send Baylor back to plate.
But WVU kept padding its lead with runs in the seventh and eighth. Baylor tried to spark a rally in the bottom of the eighth when McKenzie slashed a two-out double through right and scored on a triple by Richardson. The hit slipped just over Scott’s glove in center, after the Mountaineer’s transfer center fielder had already robbed the Bears of many hits throughout the game.
After struggling in the first couple weeks of Big 12 play, the younger players in Baylor’s lineup have begun to adjust, which is appreciated by both Rodriguez and the older players.
“Big 12’s like the real season, so with them stepping up and coming ready to play in such big situations and just being on time with everything, it’s pretty huge,” Downey said of his younger teammates. “It’s showing that a lot of the new guys are ready to fill a lot of the older guys’ shoes.”
Baylor was unable to get anything going offensively, stranding a runner in the ninth as West Virginia picked up the win. The Bears will now hit the road for their next seven games. They will travel down to Huntsville for a midweek tune-up against Sam Houston before continuing conference play in Lawrence, Kan., for a series with the Jayhawks. Baylor will wrap up its road stint in Lubbock a week later, facing a red-hot Texas Tech team that run-ruled the first-place TCU Horned Frogs Sunday.