Posed with the question about what message he would deliver to his team after it twice came up empty in no-outs, bases-loaded situations, Steve Rodriguez couldn’t resist having some fun with the questioner.
“That’s not good?” the Baylor coach quipped.
No, it’s not. Naturally, the BU coach knew that, but he also could walk away satisfied in the knowledge that the middle of his batting lineup came up big to offset the bottom half’s occasional struggles. The end result was a 6-3 Baylor win over Houston Baptist on Sunday at Baylor Ballpark, giving the Bears a series win following their first weekend of action.
Baylor’s sophomore sluggers at the 2-3-4 spots – Shea Langeliers, Davis Wendzel and Andy Thomas – resembled a safe deposit box, because they were locked in. The trio combined to go 8-for-11 (.727) at the plate with four runs scored, four walks, two home runs and three RBIs.
“Our bats, I really think, are pretty good. I’m excited about the offense,” Rodriguez said. “And that’s the problem when you only face our pitchers all fall. You see the same pitchers over and over and over again, and not having to make quick adjustments, so it took a couple of games for our guys to make those adjustments. ... They did a really good job, from the first pitch on, when Richie (Cunningham) tripled, or hit a double and an error and we were able to score him with Shea’s home run. It kind of sets the tone to let them know, ‘Hey, we’re going to be OK.’”
Baylor (2-1) struck as quickly as possible. Cunningham led off by scorching a sizzler down the right-field line for a clean double that turned into a three-base trek when HBU rightfielder Matt Heck overthrew the cutoff man. Cunningham slid awkwardly into third base and got up gingerly, leaving the game after that inning.
Langeliers ensured that Cunningham could have a leisurely walk plateward when he golfed a low offering from HBU’s Daniel Endsley down the line in left. The ball caromed off the foul pole for a two-run home run, Langeliers’ first of the season.
“I was hoping that the wind would give me a little push back to the right as it was going, but thankfully it stayed fair,” Langeliers said.
The Huskies (1-2) pounced on some Baylor mistakes in the third inning to push into the lead at 3-2. After a leadoff walk and a bobble of a routine grounder by BU freshman shortstop Nick Loftin, HBU’s Anthony Jones smacked one up the middle for an RBI single. Two batters later, Jake Pulcheon pulverized a two-run double into the left-field corner.
If sophomore starter Hayden Kettler (1-0) was rattled by the three unearned runs, he didn’t show it. He said he tried to offer some support to Loftin following the error.
“I told him, ‘Look, that’s going to happen. You’re a freshman, this is your first start, the jitters are real, I know from experience. I know you’ll get me back later in the game,’” Kettler said. “As a guy coming back in my second year, I know things like that are going to happen. So it’s just my job to focus on what I’m doing, continue to press and try to get guys out. Things will fall into place at the end.”
Baylor reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the inning. The Bears came up with three runs on T.J. Raguse’s bouncing two-run single up the middle and a hard-hit smash from freshman Davion Downey that skipped past HBU second baseman Jack Fitzgerald for an RBI single.
Despite a misty, overcast day, the Bears still hit some balls that carried. In the fourth, Wendzel pushed the score to 6-3 when he deposited a solo home run just over the fence in left-center.
“It definitely wasn’t my best, but I had a feeling it was out,” said Wendzel, who went 3-for-3 on the day and is hitting .667 on the young season. “When I get high pitches like that, and I meet them up there – I didn’t get it well at all, but I had a good feeling it was going to go out.”
The Bears twice missed chances to blow the game open in the sixth and the eighth. Baylor loaded the bases with no outs, but both times the same three hitters – Cole Haring, Raguse and Josh Bissonette – failed to produce.
“We talked about it. It’s really being able to control your emotions, understanding what you’re expecting out of them,” Rodriguez said. “I think there’s a strong desire to want to be the guy that does the job and does everything and be exciting and give the output that everybody is looking for, but sometimes you can have a couple of strikes to do it, but that third strike needs to be for the team. You’ve got to find a way to execute.”
Those empty trips didn’t cost Baylor, however. The bullpen delivered four scoreless innings in relief of Kettler, three from newcomer Jacob Ashkinos and another from closer Troy Montemayor. Kettler picked up the win, giving up just the three unearned runs in the third, while Montemayor recorded his second save of the season and the 27th in 29 opportunities for his career.
Baylor will face 17th-ranked Dallas Baptist at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Baylor Ballpark before hitting the road for the first time when it travels to UCLA next weekend.