Baseball’s clutch homers notch series win over Kansas

Baylor baseball clinched its first conference series win of the season, beating the University of Kansas two out of three games at Baylor Ballpark. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Michael Haag | Sports Writer

After splitting the first two games, Baylor baseball clinched its first conference series win of the season, this time over the University of Kansas by a score of 6-5 Saturday afternoon at Baylor Ballpark.

Two seventh-inning home runs gave the Bears (18-17, 4-8 Big 12) all they needed to hold off the Jayhawks (14-20, 2-7 Big 12). Baylor recorded zero errors or walks across all three contests.

Even though the Bears dropped Thursday’s series-opener 3-2, the offense erupted for a 19-2 victory on Friday to carry into Saturday’s success. Head coach Steve Rodriguez loved to see the team get a series win in order to reestablish some confidence.

“When you have the offense come out like it did, the pitching do what it did, you can’t help but get excited. Now we have some confidence. I really do believe that we were lacking some of that confidence,” Rodriguez said. “Guys were showing up like, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s it going to be today?’ Then we get great outings by Kobe Andrade, a great outing by Will Rigney. We couldn’t get the win, but it was still a great outing. Same thing by our bullpen on Thursday.”

On the hill, senior left-handed pitcher Matt Voelker earned the win (2-5) after dishing out 2.2 innings of solid relief with a season-high four strikeouts, only allowing one earned run.

Things didn’t get going until the third inning when Kansas opened the tally thanks to a solo home run and an RBI single. Baylor responded in the bottom side off sophomore infielder Tre Richardson’s single and junior infielder Jack Pineda scoring off a wild pitch to knot the score at two apiece.

The Jayhawks punched in two more in the fourth, but the fifth saw sophomore outfielder Kyle Nevin drive in Richardson off a pop fly to make the score 4-3. The Bears tied the tally off a huge two-out RBI single from sophomore catcher Harrison Caley.

Pineda took the leadoff spot in the seventh and sneaked a go-ahead homer off the left field foul pole.

“It was huge,” Pineda said of his home run. “I really put a lot of – I don’t want to say pressure – but I really took it upon myself to be a spark at the top of the lineup and just bring a lot of energy. I was really fortunate yesterday with a double to lead off the game; and tonight just the same thing. I think me and Tre really challenged each other to be that spark at the top of the lineup. It felt good to just produce.”

Just a couple batters later, Nevin thumped another solo shot, this one to left center, a score that ended up being the difference in the end.

Voelker worked out of a jam after giving up one run in the eighth, and turned things over to sophomore righty Chandler Freeman following two punchouts in the ninth. Freeman sealed the deal, earning his first-career save in the 6-5 win.

Baylor stays put for a battle against Lamar University scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday at Baylor Ballpark. The Bears will try to keep executing in their roles against the Cardinals (22-13, 9-6 WAC).

“When you’re able to get those things, you can’t help but get excited to get playing again, because you’re starting to see guys take care of their business,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what we try to harp on – take care of your business, then pass it to the next guy and let him do his job. Then you pass it to the next guy and let him do his job. You don’t need to do everybody’s job, just do your own.”