For the Baylor baseball team, it all went terribly wrong. For a long time, it appeared there was no end in sight.
And then everything was all right.
Despite giving up an 11-run third inning and falling behind by nine runs, the Bears didn’t blink. On a night when a host of hitters padded their batting averages, Baylor charged back to vanquish Kansas State, 21-13, in the series opener between the clubs Thursday at Baylor Ballpark.
The comeback is believed to be tied for the biggest in Baylor baseball history, according to the media guide. The Bears also scratched out of a nine-run hole in an 11-10 win over Rice on May 26, 2001 at the NCAA’s Houston Regional. In that one, Baylor trailed 9-0 after seven innings before erupting for 11 runs in the final two frames.
Fast forward to Thursday. The Bears (34-17 overall, 12-10 Big 12) and Wildcats combined for 39 hits in a game that lasted four hours and 16 minutes, ending at 10:51. It was the longest nine-inning game in school history, surpassing an April 2012 game against K-State that lasted four hours and 12 minutes.
Though the game dragged on, the rally came much sooner than most fans probably expected, as the Bears took over the lead by the fifth inning and never relinquished it.
“As the game was going on today, I just kept telling the guys, ‘Hey, this thing is long from over,” Baylor coach Steve Rodriguez said. “Just keep swinging, keep having good at-bats.’ Don’t worry about it. Just keep swinging. I just told our pitchers, ‘You have to hold us right there. If you hold us right there, our guys are going to catch up.’”
BU starter Nick Lewis turned in an outing he’d probably rather forget in his final start at Baylor Ballpark. The senior right-hander struggled to throw strikes, and when he did breeze the ball over the plate the Wildcats (27-26, 6-16) jumped on it. Fourteen straight K-State hitters reached base from the end of the second inning into the third, as the only outs recorded in that time were on the basepaths.
Lewis never recorded an out in the third, as K-State clubbed six straight hits, including a leadoff triple from nine-hole hitter Josh Ethier. Lewis then surrendered a walk and another hit before BU coach Steve Rodriguez finally pulled the plug and made the call to the bullpen.
Rodriguez said that he wanted to give Lewis every opportunity to pitch his way out of the inning and possibly give the Bears a few more.
“We had a doubleheader tomorrow, he’s our Friday guy, and we’re hoping he’ll find a feel for some of those pitches,” the coach said. “He’s a senior, and he’s earned that spot, earned that right to be out there. We didn’t want to take him out too early, and if nothing gets better now we’re in trouble. So I wanted to give him that opportunity. He’s earned that, he deserves that. It’s the least we could do.”
Alex Phillips didn’t fare much better, yielding three hits and a walk before finally getting out of the inning. That Wildcat barrage put Baylor in a 12-3 hole.
A hole, mind you, equipped with an escape hatch that the Bears eventually located.
After scoring three runs in the first two innings, the Bears just kept chipping away. A four-spot in the third. A single run in the fourth. Then the explosion – a seven-run fifth that nearly rivaled K-State’s crazy third inning.
The hitting numbers were positively batty for the Bears, on a night where the American flag in center-field never stopped waving under a northerly wind. Every Baylor hitter in the starting lineup recorded at least one hit and scored a run, and six banged out multiple RBIs.
“When we were losing 12-3 we came back in the dugout to go hit and the morale was still up,” Baylor freshman catcher Shea Langeliers said. “Everyone felt like we were still going to get the job done.”
Langeliers smoked the ball all night, finishing 4-for-5 with three RBIs, a home run shy of the cycle. Four other BU hitters – Richard Cunningham, Davis Wendzel, Aaron Dodson and Kameron Esthay – did deposit one over the fence, with Esthay crushing a 423-foot bomb over the batter’s eye wall in the seventh.
Dodson’s homer gave him 10 on the season – the first Bear to reach double digits in longballs since Josh Ludy belted 16 in 2012.
Baylor’s relievers eventually quelled the K-State onslaught. After that 11-run third, the Bears strung up five straight zeroes before the Wildcats’ Hanz Harker connected for a solo homer in the ninth.
That was a key element in Baylor battling back to the lead. By the start of the fifth inning, the Bears had pulled to within 12-8 and a complete rally was looking more and more likely.
Dodson got the fun started for the Bears in the fifth by scorching a solo shot over the wall in left-center. The next five BU hitters thereafter singled, including a bouncer through the infield from T.J. Raguse that scored two runs and trimmed the gap to 12-11, Wildcats.
Baylor tied things up moments later by scoring on a wild pitch, then took the lead when Langeliers shredded a two-run double off the wall.
Phillips (4-2) picked up the win in relief, despite allowing three runs in his three-inning stint.
The teams will resume play at 2:05 p.m. Friday, with a regular season-ending doubleheader. They were originally supposed to play three games over three days, but moved the Saturday game up a day in view of the possibility of inclement weather.
“It’s going to be a long, long day tomorrow,” Rodriguez said. “Guys are going to have to realize that they’ve got to come back and find a way to pound the zone. It’s a good hitting team over there, especially when you have conditions like this, so it’s going to be a long day tomorrow.”