OKLAHOMA CITY – Now is when their senses have to heighten.
Steve Rodriguez, however, wasn’t quite sure if he saw that from his Baylor squad in the first round of the Big 12 Baseball Championships.
It’s difficult for that to happen when the opponent puts up more runs in the first inning than they scored in 13 of their last 15 contests.
That was the case at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark Wednesday morning, when West Virginia (33-22) run-ruled Baylor (34-20), 11-1, in eight innings.
“This is when you’re supposed to get locked in and be in the zone,” the Baylor coach said. “Things are supposed to shrink around you and you’re supposed to be very isolated with your task at hand.”
Of those seven runs the Mountaineers scored in the bottom of the first, all but one of them came with two outs.
Three of them came off a triple by Kyle Gray in his second at-bat of the inning.
Overall, the Mountaineers scored seven runs off six hits in the frame – all off Baylor right-hander Nick Lewis, who picked up the loss and dropped to 6-5 on the season.
“His command was not very good,” Rodriguez said. “It was pretty simple. You give up one run in the first inning, and you have nobody on. We were able to pick off a guy. We got two outs. You hit a guy and talk a guy. We were missing spots and getting balls in the dirt or getting behind hitters and counts.
“They did a good job of hitting ground balls, line drives and constantly putting the pressure on. Unfortunately that was the thing. That one bad inning was just kind of hard to recover from.”
What made it even more difficult for the Bears to come back and cut into that Mountaineers lead was righty Isaiah Kearns.
The freshman pitcher for West Virginia lasted the entire game as he gave up one run off three hits with no walks and six strikeouts.
“He did a really good job getting ahead of hitters,” Rodriguez said. “He pitched in the zone where the wind was blowing in. I thought he did a pretty good job of elevating his fastball, and our guys were swinging at it.”
Richard Cunningham was the lone Bear to record two hits Wednesday morning.
The sophomore connected on one in the first inning but was picked off at first base.
His second – a double – was the final Baylor hit of the game in the seventh inning.
It also marked the first time a Bear reached second base.
After Shea Langeliers flied out to right field, Cunningham scored the lone Baylor run of the day as Kameron Esthay grounded out to first.
“I just kept telling our guys, ‘We got to make sure we keep pushing the ball down in our zone, offensively, to make sure we get some line drives,’” Rodriguez said. “We just weren’t able to make that adjustment. (Kearns) did a good job of bearing some sliders and elevating a fastball right about your waist and have our guys swing. I thought we laid some pretty good swings on some baseballs but just weren’t able to get line drives and base hits when we needed to.”
With the loss, Baylor is slated to face Texas Tech, who lost to Oklahoma State Wednesday, in an elimination gameat 9 a.m. Thursday.
If the Bears lose that matchup, their time in Oklahoma City is done.
“I don’t think our mindset really changes,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a baseball game. You should be locked in from the first pitch to the last pitch. That’s what these kids need to learn.”