Baylor baseball escapes 3-2 in walk-off win over UTSA

Baylor baseball makes use of the ninth inning, coming back against UTSA 3-2 for the win on March 22 at the Baylor Ballpark. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Michael Haag | Sports Writer

On a windy, chilly evening, Baylor baseball connected on a walk-off 3-2 win versus the University of Texas at San Antonio on Tuesday at Baylor Ballpark. In the bottom of the ninth, with their backs against the wall, the Bears found the life needed to attain the win.

“It’s an opportunity for our team to get punched in the gut a little bit and find out how we can respond to it,” head coach Steve Rodriguez said. “That’s happened to us in the past week a couple of times. It was nice to be able to receive one of those today. Last inning, just keep fighting, we get a lead-off base runner sac[rifice] bunt, then we have opportunities to take advantage of a couple miscues and next thing you know, we win a ballgame.”

For most of the game, Baylor (11-9, 1-2 Big 12) struggled at the plate, as they were struck out 14 times, tying a season-worst. The mound had its low points, but the final four Bears combined to throw 7.2 innings of scoreless relief.

Inserted in a different role, senior right-handed pitcher Jake Jackson notched the win (2-2) after taking the mound in the eighth and locking down the UTSA (12-8, 0-0 Conference USA) attack.

Amid an unfavorable hitting performance from a team standpoint, one bright spot was sophomore outfielder Jared McKenzie, who put the ball in play on 3-of-4 attempts. It hasn’t been a desirable start to the season for McKenzie, but he believes he is finding his groove.

“I look at my first 50 at-bats and put them in the past,” McKenzie said. “So what? It happened. Now, it’s just going back to where I’ve been successful, hitting the ball up the middle. Since my freshman year, I just try to hit the ball up the middle and have gotten back to that approach and now I’m starting to see more success.”

It was a rough start for the Bears, who were under fire early. UTSA took the early momentum with a pair of runs off some walks, an error and a single, but Baylor stranded three runners to escape the jam.

Baylor responded with a sacrifice pop fly, which plated one run, trimming the Roadrunner lead in half.

After crawling through the next few innings of scoreless baseball, things became scary for the Bears in the eighth. UTSA pushed back on the offensive, but then came Jackson, a typical Saturday-starter guy, who came onto the mound in a different spot, looking to close. After an intentional walk, he danced out of the inning with help from the “Double Play Duo” doing what they do, resulting in zero runs for the Roadrunners, keeping the score at 2-1 going into the ninth.

Being in that spot was abnormal for Jackson, but his approach was the same.

“Same mentality as always: Do my best, throw strikes and get people out,” Jackson said. “It was a mental and confidence boost. I’ve been struggling a little bit — confidence has been down a little bit — so being in that situation and getting the job done definitely boosts confidence and boosts mentality a little bit.”

Jackson came back to the dugout after that crucial defensive sequence and pumped the guys up to help get the win.

“He came back in the dugout and was pumping us up saying, ‘Hey, we have to win this game,’” McKenzie said. “And we got it done.”

Things got spicy in the bottom of the ninth. An opening walk by redshirt junior first baseman Chase Wehsener put the gears in motion. Then a well-placed sacrifice bunt from senior infielder Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo advanced the tying run – pinch runner sophomore outfielder Nolan Rodriguez – to second. Then came pinch hitter freshman first baseman Casen Neumann, who pulverized a line drive to reach by error, scoring Nolan Rodriguez to level the game.

One hit-by-pitch and a walk loaded the bases and brought junior infielder Jack Pineda to the plate with a chance to end the game. The fourth ball ensued, and the infield became a sea of Bears, celebrating the walk-off victory.

Rallying to get the midweek success was nice for coach Rodriguez, but knows this group is growing each and every day to minimize mistakes.

“I thought our guys did a good job later on in the game, but it’s something – just with everything else – they’re young and they need to continue to improve,” coach Rodriguez said.

Next up, Baylor heads north to Norman, Okla. for a three-game series against the University of Oklahoma, the first game set for 6:30 p.m. Friday at the L. Dale Mitchell Park.