LOS ANGELES – Baylor baseball coach Steve Rodriguez had some difficult decisions to make coming into Sunday’s game against UCLA in the Los Angeles Regional.
He also had to consider that his Bears had to face top-ranked UCLA in college baseball at UCLA’s own Jackie Robinson Stadium. Both teams came out swinging, but in the end UCLA had more offensive ammunition and gained an 11-6 victory, ending Baylor’s season.
UCLA improved its record to 49-9. The Bruins lost to Loyola Marymount, 3-2, late Saturday night. They will have to defeat Loyola Marymount in a game on Sunday night, and then defeat them again on Monday to move on to the Super Regional best-of-three playoff series.
Baylor finished its season with a 35-19 record and a third straight NCAA regional appearance. It was the Bears’ second loss in the double-elimination tournament, as they opened with a 3-1 loss to LMU on Friday.
“I’ll tell you what – there’s a reason why UCLA is the number one team in the nation,” Rodriguez said. “When you put good hitters in counts favorable to hitters, that can get you in trouble.”
The first challenge for Baylor was finding a pitcher to start against UCLA. Rodriguez had to wait until UCLA and Loyola Marymount finished their game to determine matchups. Rodriguez tapped Tyler Thomas, a sophomore left-hander who started six games during the year but had recently been filling a bullpen role.
“I was hoping he could get through three, four, or five innings,” Rodriguez said.
UCLA designated hitter Jake Pries hit a two-run home against Thomas in the first inning. Thomas got through three innings with a tie score, but couldn’t retire a batter in the fourth inning.
Even if Baylor could generate offense against UCLA starting pitcher Jesse Bergin, who entered the game with a 5-0 record, the Bears had to go up against a UCLA bullpen that was one of the best in NCAA Division I baseball. But Baylor rebounded quickly, scoring three runs in the top of the second.
Designated hitter Andy Thomas led off the inning with a double to right. Davis Wendzel followed with an RBI double, and Cole Haring homered to deep center, lifting the Bears to a 3-2 advantage. UCLA squared things in the last of the third when Garrett Mitchell tripled down the right-field line and scored on shortstop Ryan Kreidler’s sacrifice fly.
Baylor scored a run in the fourth, fifth, and sixth inning, but UCLA banged out eight runs over that period and took an 11-6 advantage.
“At the end of the day, I just we could have done more,” said Haring, who also hit a solo home run in the fourth inning. “We had in mind that we would host a Super Regional, and we didn’t think we would lose.”
Baylor was coming off a 24-6 win over Oamah on Saturday, but the Bears couldn’t put the extra runs in a bank account. Another aspect of that outburst was that the Bears’ high-powered offense was noticed by UCLA coach John Savage, who guided the Bruins to the 2013 NCAA championship.
“There were a lot of runs and a lot of opportunities for both teams,” Savage said. “Baylor has an explosive team and is very dangerous. It was a good win against a good team.”
What Rodriguez said he will remember most about this 2019 Baylor season is the character of the players on this season’s team.
“I can’t tell you how many times I got emails from people who told me how players had helped them or talked with their children,” Rodriguez said. “They’re going to be good husbands and fathers.”
Rodriguez advised people at the post-season media conference to be nice to senior centerfielder Richard Cunningham, “because you’re all going to be working for him someday.” Cunningham, a Dean’s list student, had two hits in his final game for the Bears.
Rodriguez talked about his Baylor facing adversity. Junior pitcher Cody Bradford was a preseason All-American but pitched in only three games due to injury. Bradford could be back for the Bears next season, but he also might be selected in the Major League Draft, which begins on Monday.
In addition to Cunningham, other seniors who closed out their careers for the Bears included Haring, second baseman Josh Bissonette, closer Kyle Hill, third baseman/outfielder Cole Weaver, and outfielder T.J. Raguse. It also likely marked the final game in a BU uniform for catcher Shea Langeliers and third baseman Davis Wendzel, who are expected to be high draft picks.