By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer
When it rains, it pours.
Baylor baseball has found its groove, and even a rain delay couldn’t stop the scorching hot Bears as they took down Sam Houston State University, 7-6, Tuesday night at Baylor Ballpark.
Coming off its first series win of the season, Baylor (9-12) looked to end a 14-game homestand on top. The green and gold have now taken four of its last five games and will roll on in conference play on the heels of a three-game winning streak.
Head coach Mitch Thomson trusted junior right-handed pitcher Jared Matheson to take the mound on Tuesday. Matheson, primarily a reliever, only threw 2.0 innings but gave up just one unearned run while striking out a pair of batters.
SHSU (13-9) held on to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning before giving up a pair of runs. Sophomore first baseman John Ceccoli led off the inning with a free pass after wearing a fastball. Following Ceccoli, junior designated hitter Casey Sunseri reached base on an error by the Bearkat shortstop and Ceccoli advanced to third. Both would go on to score after a pair of sacrifice hits and a wild pitch.
Heading into the top of the third with the lead, Thompson elected to turn to junior right-handed pitcher Anderson Needham. Needham fired 2.1 innings and struck out a season-high four batters, while allowing four hits. He gave up one of his two earned runs in the top of the third to even the score at 2-2 heading into the bottom of the third.
Baylor’s bats came around to give him insurance, though.
Freshman shortstop Kolby Branch led off the inning with a single down the right field line, and then advanced to second base on a passed ball. Branch finished the day with two singles and a walk, and he has now reached base in all 21 games this season. Sam Houston then recorded two quick outs before junior second baseman Cole Posey was ready to start a two-out rally.
With two strikes in the count, Posey smacked an RBI double down the left field line, scoring Branch from second. Ceccoli dug into the left side of the batter’s box after Posey and spanked his second hit of the day into the right-center field gap. Posey came in to score and the Bears pushed their lead to 4-2.
Following a scoreless fourth inning, Needham headed back on to the mound to start the fifth. He was able to get a fast out but then gave up his second earned run of the day and was replaced by freshman left-handed pitcher Ethan Calder. Calder gave up an earned run in the third but limited the damage and the game was tied at 4-4.
Neither team scored in the sixth and the game remained deadlocked going to the seventh inning. Calder threw another inning and ended the day having thrown for 2.0 innings while allowing only the one earned run on three hits, also striking out three batters. The left-handed freshman was able to record an out in the top of the seventh, before the Bears handed the ball over to junior right-handed reliever Grant Golomb.
Before dealing with the batter at the plate, Golomb picked off a runner on first base to record the second out of the inning. He then turned his attention to the batter at the dish and fired a four-pitch strikeout, the 10th of the evening for the Bears.
Baylor has now struck out 10 or more batters in 16 of its 21 games.
Golomb was finished after rendering 0.2 innings and striking out a batter without allowing a baserunner. The seventh inning stretch was met with heavy rainfall but the Bears still sent batters to the plate, at least for one more half inning.
Once again, SHSU recorded two quick outs before Branch was walked to start more two-out momentum. Sophomore third baseman Hunter Teplanszky stepped up to the plate and drilled an RBI triple into right field, giving the Bears the lead. Later in the inning, he would score on a wild pitch, and moving into the eighth, the green and gold held a 6-4 lead.
However, before the eighth inning could begin, there was a one-hour-and-10-minute rain delay. Both teams were willing to wait out the rain and continue the midweek battle.
Once play resumed, Thompson called upon junior right-handed pitcher Cole Stasio to finish out the game. After an error and a pair of hits, the Bearkats were able to tie the game in the eighth inning with two unearned runs. But yet again, the Baylor bats were right there with an answer.
Ceccoli led-off the bottom of the inning with a double, his third hit of the day. Baylor then elected to use a pinch hitter with one out in the inning. It was freshman outfielder Caleb Bergman, who entered the batter’s box from the right side.
Bergman slapped a ground ball up the middle and into center field for a single and Ceccoli scored from second base to help the Bears regain the lead at 7-6.
“[He has a] very unassuming body build, little guy,” Thompson said about Bergman, who stands at 5-foot-9-inches tall. “But he’s a competitor. He’s a baseball player and he’s going to keep getting more and more opportunities because he comes through virtually every time we ask him to.”
While the scoring was over, the craziness would continue. Bergman remained in the game playing center field and he would make another big impact defensively in the ninth. Stasio allowed a walk and a single, and with no outs in the inning, Sam Houston had a chance to regain the lead.
The next batter stepped up to the plate and smashed the first pitch he saw to dead center field, but Bergman tracked the ball and felt like he would be able to catch it. The runners on base also thought he would catch it, so they looked to tag up. Instead, the ball hit off the top of the wall in center field and Bergman picked the ball up after it fell to the grass.
He relayed the ball to Branch who fired it to home plate turning to catch the runner from second trying to score. He did, and the call was made: out at home. Sophomore catcher Cortlan Castle then fired a bullet to third base trying to get the runner from first base that tried to advance to third. Another out, this time at third. An unthinkable 8-6-2-5 double play kept the Bears on top and there were now two outs in the inning.
“I love these guys. They support me endlessly and they show me so much love,” Bergman said. “[They] always have my back and it’s so good to give something back to them when I get out there and play.”
Stasio (2-2) was then removed after that at bat and took the win. The reliever threw 1.2 innings and gave up two unearned runs while giving up four hits. Baylor turned the ball over to sophomore right-handed pitcher Gabe Craig (1) who recorded his first save as a Bear and forced the final batter into a fly out on just one pitch.
“I’m thankful to get out here and I’m thankful to get out of here with the win,” Thompson said. “We had to fight for it, so it was good.”
The Bears will return to conference action on Friday for the first game of a three-game set against Oklahoma State University. First pitch for game one is set for 6 p.m. at O’Brate Stadium in Stillwater, Okla.