By Michael Haag | Sports Writer
It’s been a roller coaster ride for Baylor baseball thus far, but amid a spotty bullpen, the bats have come alive. It’s not often you see a stretch of 46 runs across 25 innings, but the Bears are feeling themselves as they gear into the heart of Big 12 play.
“I think just hitting is so contagious,” junior infielder Jack Pineda said. “You’re starting to kind of see us all get hot at the right time hopefully.”
Baylor (16-11, 2-4 Big 12) is almost through a short stint of non-conference play, and has a chance to ignite a six-game win streak with a win over No. 24 Dallas Baptist University Tuesday night. Having an offense connecting on all cylinders like this makes the sport more fun for the group.
“It’s a lot more fun when everyone’s hitting the ball and we’re scoring more runs, and even more when we win ball games because of it,” sophomore outfielder Jared McKenzie said. “It’s promising and exciting knowing that there’s a lot of Big 12 play left and our offense is starting to click.”
Now in the full swing of things, the squad feels more grounded at the plate. That comfortability at bat is another factor in the upped hitting numbers. Such is the case for Pineda, who is letting the team’s performances speak for itself.
“I think that our team just gets better with each at-bat and I think that kind of shows,” Pineda said. “Especially lately with the amount of runs that we’re able to score late in games. And then as the season carries on, we kind of get a better idea of what teams are trying to do. And then we just feel our swing a little bit more too, so it’s a little bit easier when your feet are kind of planted and just more comfortable.”
The Bears have poured on runs with help from 78 hits over the last seven games, showing what they’re capable of. For head coach Steve Rodriguez, seeing that contact turn into early momentum is huge, as runs can stack up in a hurry.
“That’s what really excites me, is that they’re able to get it going to the pace that we need pretty quick,” Rodriguez said.
Padding a lead with runs makes the job as a starting pitcher much more manageable too. Sunday starter and sophomore right-handed pitcher Will Rigney said he appreciates the batting and knows performances like this will help the team prevent the heartbreak faced last season.
“Being the 65th team [last year], every single game matters,” Rigney said. “I just appreciate my teammates and the hitters. They’ve put up a lot of runs on Sundays it seems like, so it makes it a little easier for me.”
The opposition all year has not been easy for Baylor, one of the things Rodriguez emphasized in his scheduling. While it can be frustrating trying to hit off good pitchers, redshirt junior first baseman Chase Wehsener knows it’s been the best way to prepare for the rigors of conference play.
“I mean, we’ve faced some great pitching throughout this year and I think it’s really set us up to come into Big 12 [play],” Wehsener said. “We’re going to see that same caliber pitching and just keep getting better and growing from it as much as we can. Just sticking to that approach of buying into helping the team in any way we can, it’s been great and really helpful for us.”
That approach Wehsener mentioned is something other guys have talked about all season. The recent success has been attributed to the mindset in the box and how it’s allowed results to show. After a strong Friday outing from senior catcher Ian Groves, he fixated on this and how the group can continue keeping the bats hot.
“I think it’s just the mentality at the plate for everybody,” Groves said. “Everybody’s looking to do damage and looking to get their pitch. When we get it, we’re not really missing right now, so we’re gonna try to keep that going as long as possible.”
Another noticeable upgrade for Baylor is their extra base hits. Not really known for their power, the Bears have been able to get a variety of hits, rather than just singles. This proves to be a big impact for Pineda and the batting order, as they aren’t as limited in how they can post runs.
“I think it just does wonders for the productivity of our offense. I mean, now, we’re not having to have three hits score a run,” Pineda said.
Baylor has a chance to keep cracking on base when the team starts its road slate against DBU at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Horner Ballpark in Dallas. The game against the Patriots (17-10) is the first of five straight road games. The team is on cloud nine with the way hits are dished out as the squad looks to continue passing the bat back.
“I like where we’re at,” Pineda said. “It’s so much more fun to come out here when you’re having success. Guys are starting to hit the ball really hard and it just makes it more enjoyable and a lot more fun to be around.”