Baylor sweeps opening series against Purdue, takes trio of one-run victories
Baylor sweeps opening series against Purdue, takes trio of one-run victories
By Denton Ramsey, NCAA Sportswriter/Big 12 Fans Baylor Correspondent
WACO, Texas – The Baylor Bears, ranked No. 15 nationally by Baseball America, have begun the 2008 baseball season exactly the way they wanted – and head coach Steve Smith couldn’t be happier about his young team’s successful start.
After taking game one in a decisive 2-1 victory, the Bears battled back in the second game – falling behind early before tacking on the tying runs in the bottom of the seventh and eight innings to send the game into extra frames, eventually winning the contest 11-10 in 11 innings.
“On a day like today, being down early is not as concerning as when we got down the second time,” Smith said following Saturday’s come-from-behind victory. “We got behind two with only three innings to play, and they’ve got some pretty good arms left down there. That was more concerning than being down five early.
“I feel like we’re going to hit, and there’s a lot of game left to play, but somebody’s got to hold it down. Mace [Thurman] did a nice job coming in, particularly for his first time ever here. He was really, really good. We didn’t play defense behind [Tim] Matthews, and we gave up the lead because of that, but then we got a couple of really good innings out of Nick [Cassavechia]. I was hopeful that we would get from Erik [Forestiere] what we did. It’s really encouraging to see him go out and pitch because he had to go through the best guys they’ve got.”
The rubber game of the series showcased another spectacular mound match-up, as both pitchers tossed deep into the opening round finale – with Baylor (3-0) winning a wild one, 2-1, in a three-game sweep over Purdue (0-3).
“I didn’t think we had a very good day offensively,” Smith said after the Bears 2-1 victory on Sunday afternoon. “Give their guy some credit, he pitched us pretty well, but it’s early in the year. The pitching on both sides controlled the offenses of both teams this weekend.
“The thing that happened yesterday [Saturday, Feb. 23] was that neither side threw strikes, but the pitchers for both teams were ahead of both sides when it came to offense, which is probably why the games were as close as they were.”
Baylor’s Smith was quick to defend his decision to call Aaron Miller to the mound in the later innings of the series against Purdue, despite left-handed opponents’ success against the Bears relief pitcher.
“It hasn’t worked against the left-handed hitters,” Smith said. “They’re 3-for-3 against him right now, but he did show a lot of poise. If I would’ve had to go get him [Miller] after the first two guys got on, it would’ve created a real situation; [Baylor closer Nick] Cassavechia would’ve had to hit in somebody’s spot right in the middle of the order, and I just wasn’t willing to do that right then.
“I gave him a chance to get out of it and he made me look good on it. That’s obviously going to be a risk that we take when we’re where we were in the order, and that’s one reason why I was so long in making the decision.”
Obviously, as mentioned, Smith’s decision was a wise one – with the Bears capping off the series with another one-run win on Sunday.
“It was not an incredibly well-managed game, but the thing that was impressive was the couple of times where there were some pretty interesting jams against some good hitters, and we got out [of it],” Smith said. “That certainly didn’t go like it was scripted, but this early in the year I don’t know that there is a script. We’re very happy to get the win, and hopefully we all realize that we’re pretty fortunate to get it.”
Fortune, script, whatever you want to call it – the Bears will take it.
“It’s good that we were able to hold them down today on a day when we weren’t as productive offensively,” Sunday’s sophomore starting pitcher Willie Kempf said. “It was good to see Craig [Fritsch] come in and throw a couple of good innings, and Aaron [Miller] got in a jam and got out of it.
“I threw a lot of fastballs. Most of their hitters are on top of the plate, so they were hitting some balls away, and so once we started throwing in, we got a lot of jams. We just had to mix it up a little bit because they were a pretty solid hitting team, and it seemed like if we made mistakes they were hitting them pretty well.”
For the Bears, solid defense was a key to the series sweep against the Boilermakers – as starter Kempf can attest.
“[I had] great defense; that last inning [top of the fifth] when I walked the first two guys and we got that ground ball, that was huge for us to get that good feed and good turn, and we got that, so I just had to get the next guy,” Kempf said. “Luckily we did when Landis [Ware] came and got that ground ball that was weakly hit, and he made a good play to first base. It’s quite a luxury pitching with that defense behind you; they pick you up.”
No matter how you slice it, the 2008 Baylor baseball team never gives up – especially after falling behind twice on Saturday before finally walking away with an 11-inning victory over Purdue.
“That just kind of shows our team,” Bears sophomore infielder Shaver Hansen, Saturday’s grand slam hero, said. “We have all the talent in the world on this team to go far, kind of show what we can do, never give up – especially after going back and forth and switching leads. We saw several arms, but we still adjusted well, and that’s a good sign for our team.”
Landis Ware’s two-run shot in the series opener – in addition to a BU clinic on how to play solid defense – proved to be the deciding factor in Baylor beginning the season with a one-run victory.
“That’s the story right there,” Smith said in regards to Ware’s performance on Friday evening against Purdue. “The defense was every bit as important. The play he made in the ninth inning was a heck of a play, and if he doesn’t make that play, now you’re first and second with nobody out. Bunt them over, and it could be a whole different ball game. Getting that out was a heck of a play.”
As far as Ware’s homerun, the Baylor freshman infielder told reporters that he wanted to be patient at the plate after swinging early in his prior at-bats.
“I wanted to take some pitches,” Ware said following Friday’s season-opener victory. “On my other two at bats I swung at the first pitch and didn’t get to see all of his stuff. So I took a strike, then got to 1-1, and ended up getting [to] 2-2 after taking the pitch so Paul Miles could steal second. He threw me a fastball inside and I got the barrel through, and it worked out for us.”
Pitching – a coach Smith specialty over the years with the Baylor manager at the helm – proved to be the difference maker in all three victories, including the Bears season-opener 2-1 victory over the Boilermakers.
“Kendal [Volz] threw extremely well; a lot of strikes, and the pitch count was what kept him out there as long as he did,” Smith said following the BU victory on Friday. “I didn’t dream that I would be contemplating, on opening night, letting a guy go back out for the ninth inning, but I actually contemplated it.
“I’m pretty sure he had enough gas left in the tank to do it, but it was a little early in the year to be doing that. He was at 99 pitches, which was amazing. Our starters have gotten into the 80-pitch limit in intrasquads, so he wasn’t in unchartered territory when I let him go back out there for the eighth, but he would’ve been if I would’ve let him go back out there for the ninth, but I wasn’t going to let him do it.”
Instead, Smith decided to go to his bullpen on Friday evening with the game on the line – calling on young reliever Miller.
“It gave me an opportunity to put Aaron [Miller] out there in a matchup situation and get his feet wet,” Smith said. “Fortunately that walk didn’t jump up and bite us.”
Three games deep into the 2008 season, Baylor’s Ware leads the team in batting – with the young infielder’s average hovering at .500, with four runs batted in (RBI), one double and a homerun.
In the pitching department, BU closer Cassavechia has two saves on the season – having allowed just one hit and no runs through four innings of relief.
Following a one-day break in live game action, the Bears return to the diamond on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at Baylor Ballpark – a match-up with Texas Southern slated to begin at 6:30 p.m. – before hosting the QTI Baylor Classic beginning Friday, Feb. 29, and running through Sunday, March 2.
Teams invited to this year’s annual Baylor tournament include Illinois, Illinois-Chicago and Stephen F. Austin.
Baylor’s game against Texas Southern on Tuesday, as well as all BU baseball games this season, will be broadcast live on Waco’s 1660 AM, ESPN Radio.
In addition, live streaming audio and stats (via GameTracker) are available for all Baylor baseball games online at www.BaylorBears.com, the official website of Baylor Athletics.
Denton Ramsey may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org