By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
Slated against the No. 1 seed in the 2022 Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship, Baylor baseball needed a strong outing in order to take down the regular season Big 12 champs. Holding onto a 2-0 lead through the middle of the sixth, the Bears had their chances, but they came up just short of an upset win.
No. 8-seeded Baylor ultimately fell 4-2 in brutal fashion to top-seeded Texas Christian University Wednesday afternoon at Globe Life Field in Arlington.
The Bears (26-27, 7-17 Big 12) held onto a 2-0 lead through the top of the sixth inning, but the Horned Frogs (36-18, 16-8 Big 12) kept trucking along, eventually busting through the green and gold’s bullpen and scoring four unanswered runs.
“When you can get on a team like TCU early, it’s always a good start for you,” head coach Steve Rodriguez said. “They won the Big 12 conference for a reason; they’re a very good team. There were some opportunities that we gave them, and that’s what good teams do — they took advantage.”
The Bears got a strong outing from junior right-handed pitcher Blake Helton, as he threw 6.1 innings of solid work. Helton gave up two earned runs on five hits, walked four and dished out a career-high seven strikeouts across 90 pitches.
“When your starting pitcher gives [you] an outing like that, it’s a little tough to only muster as many [runs] as we did [on offense],” sophomore infielder Tre Richardson said. “Missing the opportunities that we had, it doesn’t feel too good, but that’s just the game of baseball.”
TCU head coach Kirk Saarloos said his group struggled to get through Helton’s arsenal of pitches, mentioning that they hadn’t seen him this season — something Baylor thought was an advantage going into this game.
“We didn’t face him earlier in the year,” Saarloos said. “He had a really good breaking ball, which we tried to lay off as much as we could, but it’s easier said than done. I thought he did an extremely good job in terms of being a pitcher today.”
Offensively, Richardson finished 2-of-3 with a pair of doubles and scored runs, crediting his success to a consistent plate approach.
“Today it felt the same way as I do any other day,” Richardson said. “Thankfully, the results went my way. It was just [having the] same approach every single game. We do so much work behind the scenes in terms of trying to channel our swings and fine-tune everything.”
Baylor clawed across first, thanks to a left-field double from Richardson, who was brought in off sophomore first baseman Kyle Nevin’s two-out triple.
Things went quiet across the next four frames, thanks in part to Helton retiring nine straight batters from the third through the fifth, but the Bears doubled their lead in the top of the sixth. It was junior designated hitter Antonio Valdez who broke the ice, as he sliced a single down the right side to plate Richardson for the second time.
The Frogs found life in the bottom frame, as a bit of miscommunication in the Baylor outfield gave TCU an RBI double. Following the mishap, the Frogs connected on a sacrifice fly to land the tying run.
“I was throwing some mistake pitches, and they took advantage of it,” Helton said of the inning.
Despite the late slip up, Helton made the Frogs work to land contact, as TCU senior infielder Tommy Sacco gave praise to the Austin native.
“He competed really well out there against us,” Sacco said. “When someone’s in a groove like that, you just have to buy your time. When he shows cracks in his game, that’s when you take advantage, like we did.”
Things stayed level through seven, but TCU broke free in the eighth. After sophomore righty Grant Golomb (0-1), who was charged with the loss, took over on the mound, he allowed a leadoff walk, a single and a stolen base, putting two in scoring position for the Horned Frogs.
Golomb then launched a wild pitch that plated the go-ahead run, and TCU followed that up with a single into left field, extending things to 4-2. The Bears were left with one chance to crack across a couple runs, but they couldn’t muster anything, resulting in the loss.
With the outcome, Baylor has a bright and early 9 a.m. elimination contest May 26 against fifth-seeded Oklahoma State University, who was shut out 4-0 Wednesday morning at the hands of fourth-seeded University of Texas. The loser will be done for the week, as it’s a double-elimination tournament.
The Bears are less than a week removed from a series-loss to the Cowboys (36-19, 15-9 Big 12) at Baylor Ballpark, and Rodriguez is looking to keep it simple in tomorrow’s matchup.
“We’re going to have to score more runs than they do,” Rodriguez said. “We have to play well. It’s just pretty simple. We need a good starting performance. We need offensive execution.”