No. 11 Bears sweep through QTI Baylor Classic, remain undefeated
No. 11 Bears sweep through QTI Baylor Classic, remain undefeated
By Denton Ramsey, NCAA Sportswriter/Big 12 Fans Baylor Correspondent
WACO, Texas – The Baylor Bears baseball team is on fire, remaining undefeated after sweeping a weekend series with a trio of teams.
Steve Smith’s Bears (7-0) – ranked No. 11 in the latest Baseball America polls – picked up three more wins this past weekend in the annual QTI Baylor Classic, blowing out their opening round opponent before squeaking by in the second two games to keep their undefeated record intact.
“There are five one-run games in there, so we could easily be 4-3,” Smith said following Baylor’s 4-3 victory over Stephen F. Austin in the QTIBC finale on Sunday, March 2. “We’ve played pretty well defensively, and we’re making a lot of plays. The one thing that needs to get better is going to be the walk number for our pitchers being too high.
“We give a lot of teams free bases; [Sunday] we did it quite a bit, but we made pitches too. [Sunday is] a perfect example of that. Willie [Kempf] loaded the bases almost by himself in one inning, and [he] was able to make pitches to get out of it. He had pretty good defensive play behind him, and we’ve got a good bullpen. We’ve got a lot of good arms and some of them haven’t been out there much yet. I still like the club, and as the time goes on we’ll see better and better swings out of our offense.”
On Sunday, the Bears were not ensured of a W until the game’s final pitch – clinching yet another one-run victory on the season – taking an early 3-0 lead only to see it evaporate late prior to Baylor tacking on a seventh inning run and holding on for the win.
“A win is a win, but it’s good when you see different guys contributing and you see different guys making plays in fairly tight situations when there’s little margin for error,” Smith said. “Erik Forestiere going out today and getting six outs with a one-run lead is a pretty big deal for him. It certainly will give him a lot of confidence, and the players out there behind him a lot of confidence, knowing that it doesn’t always have to be Nick [Cassavechia] that goes in for those situations.”
Forestiere appeared to welcome the late-innings challenge, attacking the batters early and often to garner the save.
“He came in throwing strikes with three pitches right away,” Smith said. “He did that the other day when he went out there, and that’s requirement number one. It always troubles me when a guy goes in a game and the catcher’s diving for his first pitch. I’ve seen that quite a bit, and I know it’s early in the year, but that kind of thing needs to get better. Erik threw strike one and strike two right off the bat.”
Despite the near pitcher-perfect picture from the mound this season, Smith is a bit concerned about his offense relying heavily on homeruns.
“I don’t know if it’s a thought pattern or if it’s [our] approach, but we’re living on the flyball right now,” Smith said. “We’re living on homeruns, and that won’t work against good-quality pitching. [On Sunday] we got ourselves out quite a bit with a lot of big swings and lot of weak flyballs. We’re thinking long-ball too much, and that might be a carryover from the Friday night game.”
On Friday, Feb. 29, the Bears opened the QTI Baylor Classic with a major offensive outburst, crossing home plate 20 times (on 21 hits) while limiting Illinois to just six runs on nine hits.
“We got extra opportunities,” Smith said following Friday’s 20-6 Baylor victory over Illinois. “They kicked it around a little bit on defense and they left the guy out there. They weren’t in any hurry to go to their bullpen, and our guys were seeing him well and taking good swings.”
One of those taking swings for the fences on Friday night included Aaron Miller, the first Bears baseball player to hit three homeruns at Baylor Ballpark.
“Hitting is contagious, and the guys swung the bats very well,” Smith said. “Obviously he’s [Miller] got some juice in his bat; it was quite a display. He’s a pretty special kid.”
Baylor sophomore starting pitcher Kendal Volz – who picked up the win on Friday against Illinois – concurs with his skipper, adding that Miller is probably one of the toughest outs in the nation.
“We all know he [Miller] can hit, and [on Friday] he just showed his potential,” Volz said. “He’s a great hitter; one of the best hitters. Throwing against him in all of the intrasquads in the fall, he’s one of the best hitters that we’ll throw to, and we could say that about almost every hitter on our team. There aren’t too many times you’ll see that, or even hear about that.”
According to Miller, it took a total team effort for the BU victory – and he credits the team’s overall ability to Baylor being able to smoke 21 hits in the QTIBC opener.
“We’ve always had the ability to do something like that, and I think we’re going to do it quite a bit more,” Miller said. “[Against Illinois,] we showed a little bit about what our lineup can do. Up and down the lineup, [we had] doubles, home runs, just absolutely killing the ball. Once we get in a flow, it’s going to be a really hard lineup for opposing pitchers to attack.”
Miller’s exactly right – especially with a lineup as offensively packed as the Bears – and against Illinois, every single player in the lineup picked up at least one hit.
“It definitely does [help] with the way Adam [Hornung] is swinging, and Dustin [Dickerson] behind him,” Miller said. “Dustin had three doubles today, and Beamer [Weems] ahead of me got a few hits. There are really no weaknesses in our lineup.
“I really feel bad for other teams when you come out and guys are swinging this well. Landis [Ware] had three hits in the nine-hole, and when teams are swinging it that well, there’s just really not much you can do.”
Baylor followed Friday’s blowout win with a come-from-behind victory on Saturday, March 1 against Illinois-Chicago – falling behind early before battling back with a four-run seventh to garner a 5-4 win.
“This game was about pitching and defense,” Smith said. “We played it really well on the defensive side. Beamer [Weems] and Shaver [Hansen] on the left side of the infield were really, really good, and Beamer showed that he is in fact a human with that error in the ninth; but he made some tremendous plays, as did Shaver.
“Shaver’s play when he had to come get that ball [in the eighth inning] was a great play. I couldn’t be more pleased with how we’re playing defense in the infield. They’ve been really, really good.”
Junior outfielder Ben Booker was Saturday’s hero for the Bears, blasting a two-run triple that temporarily gave Baylor a 4-3 lead before BU pitching hung on to clinch the win.
“That lefty [Chris Kovacevich] was throwing all kinds of off-speed,” Booker said. “When the count got to 3-1 and he threw me another off-speed pitch I was like, ‘he might as well throw it again.’ He left it up and I put a good swing on it, but I saw that center fielder going after it and I thought ‘please just let it drop one time.’ It was good for us.
“This team is veteran enough where once we get down one or two runs it’s not a big deal because up and down the lineup everybody hits the ball pretty well. Our pitchers throw the ball well, and when you get up two or three and have Nick [Cassavechia] coming in, one of the best relievers, you feel solid once you get the lead.”
Senior center fielder Paul Miles, who picked up a hit and also crossed home plate in Saturday’s BU victory, was happy to see Baylor’s deep and talented team pull together once again for a one-run win.
“The day before we came out and really put a ton of hits up there, and then the next day we’ve got to come out and win close games,” Miles said. “That’s a good thing about this team. One day we can do it by beating guys pretty well, and then the next day we can come and pitch, play, throw the ball around and win one-run ball games. That’s pretty good for our team dynamic. We can get it done a lot of ways.”
Sophomore third baseman Shaver Hansen agrees with his teammate, dropping in two hits in Sunday’s finale against Stephen F. Austin – a 4-3 Baylor victory.
“Early in the season it builds a lot of confidence being able to come back and win,” Hansen said. “[We have had] timely hits, our pitchers never give up, and everything is kind of adding up. As long as we can get the win, that’s all that matters.”
However, according to Hansen – as well as the coaching staff – the team needs to learn to quit relying on the long-ball if they expect to continue their highly successful season.
“We’ve been popping it up in the air, which is something we need to shy away from,” Hansen said. “We’ve had the wind blowing the last couple of days, and that has benefited us. When that doesn’t happen, and when we get a guy that’s going to have pretty lights-out stuff, we need to be able to square the ball up and hit it on a line or on the ground.
“That’s what we’re going to work on in practice. That and bunting. We’ve missed on a couple of bunts and things like that, so we need to get that done; [we need to work on] the little parts of the game and not so much the long-ball.”
Practice makes perfect; so far, the Baylor baseball team has done just that – remaining perfect thus far with a 7-0 record.
The Bears aim to keep that record intact when they face Louisiana Tech in a two-game series at Baylor Ballpark beginning on Tuesday, March 4 and concluding on Wednesday, March 5.
Check back on Friday, March 6, for the latest news and notes from the green and gold baseball team as the Bears look to continue their winning ways…
Denton Ramsey may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org