By Michael Haag | Sports Writer
Baylor baseball got the better of Sam Houston State University 9-5 Tuesday evening at Baylor Ballpark in what was a punch-counterpunch contest that saw 27 hits in total from both sides. The two teams have split their matchups this season, dating to March 15 when SHSU walked off with an 11-10 win.
The Bears (20-17, 4-8 Big 12) overcame a fourth inning three-run deficit to the Bearkats (19-17, 10-5 WAC) and neutralized explosive hitting through some key relief pitching.
“I’ll tell you what, Sam Houston might be one of the best-hitting teams in the country,” head coach Steve Rodriguez said. “The way they come in, they have several guys hitting over .400, a lot of guys in the high .300’s, it’s a really impressive offense. I told our guys, ‘We can give up as many hits as we want, just don’t surrender runs and we did just that.”
Senior right-handed pitcher Jake Jackson came away with the win (3-3), throwing 2.2 innings of scoreless relief while also dishing out two strikeouts on three allowed hits.
Senior lefty Matt Voelker took the mound after Jackson and threw three innings of solid relief en route to his second save of the season. Voelker hurled four punchouts and only allowed one earned run on four hits.
“Having those two come out and give us the outing that they did was huge,” Rodriguez said. “It was a big win for us and I’m happy that those two were able to come up in such a big way.”
The Bearkats scratched first in the top of the third, but the Bears matched it in the bottom side. The fourth saw a pair of SHSU solo homers over the right field wall to extend their lead 4-1, but the lead wasn’t safe for long.
In the ensuing side, Baylor put a couple on base and watched as sophomore two-way player Cam Caley mashed a double into the left field corner, bringing both home to make it a 4-3 ballgame.
The Bears broke things open in the sixth as a leadoff triple from sophomore outfielder Kyle Nevin put things in motion. He crossed the plate after a subsequent single up the middle, tying the contest 4-4. Junior infielder Jack Pineda knows how easy it is to crumble when faced with a deficit, but said he was happy to see the group persevere.
“I’m really proud of us. I think it’s really easy when a team is hitting like that to fold and just look forward to the series we have this weekend,” Pineda said. “It’s kind of been the story all along. We haven’t necessarily been out of games, besides maybe Texas State. We’re going to creep back into every game and it’s all about capitalizing at the right time. It’s just about creating our own luck, and I think we’ve seen that this week.”
Baylor was not satisfied, as it saw a couple two-out hits paired with a solo shot from senior catcher Ian Groves to carry the way to an 8-4 lead through the seventh inning.
Both the Bearkats and Bears mustered a run apiece in the eighth, but Baylor silenced SHSU 9-5 off an emphatic Voelker punchout. Voelker said it felt good to go out and sling a good outing, especially when it helped put away the Bearkats for good.
“It felt great,” Voelker said. “We’ve been playing well, carrying over the weekend into the midweeks. Phenomenal execution on the mound, defense, offense. It was a great team win.”
This contest marked the ninth game over a stretch of 11 days for the team. Rodriguez is glad to see his squad come out and succeed while dealing with things on and off the diamond.
“It’s a lot of baseball. These guys want to play professional baseball, well, guess what? This is it,” Rodriguez said. “So, you have to find a way to recover. And that’s one thing a lot of people don’t realize is what has to go into being a college athlete, and this is it. Everybody just kind of looks at the results on the field but they don’t see they’re going to class to try to get a 3.0 or 4.0 GPA. They don’t see them in the training room making sure they’re healthy to come back out here and then be able to compete. And you’re up late at night, and now you have to go do classwork, and so these are all the things a lot of people don’t see. So the fact that they’ve had the success they had over the span is pretty impressive and [I’m] very proud of them.”
The Bears now gear up for a road set against No. 10 University of Texas, the first contest set for 6:30 p.m. Friday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin. Saturday and Sunday’s games are both set for 1 p.m. and can all be watched on the Longhorn Network.