STAYING ALIVE: Bears Eliminate #21 Jayhawks, 4-3, Face WVUMay 23, 2014
By Mark Jezek
Special to the Insider
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - With its fragile season on the line, the Baylor Bears used a four-run third inning to get past No. 21 Kansas, 4-3, on Thursday and stay alive in the Big 12 Championship at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
Facing not only elimination from the tournament but a sudden end to the season, Baylor head coach Steve Smith chose to throw redshirt freshman right-hander Drew Tolson in Thursday's elimination game.
"I felt we got off to a good start with Tolson on the mound," Smith said. "It was a bit of a debate in my mind on who to go with today. It's always refreshing when someone rewards your decision. He was very efficient. He got some strikeouts early in the game that I thought were important. He ate up innings, and we got a couple timely double-play balls. I'm very proud of these guys."
Tolson answered the bell in a big way to begin the game. After giving up a leadoff single to Justin Protacio, he struck out back-to-back batters with a runner in scoring position to get out of the frame.
Kansas (34-24) did strike first, though. Connor McKay led off the second with a walk, followed by a single by Ka'iana Eldredge, and then scored on a sacrifice fly by 9-hole hitter Tommy Mirabelli to take the early 1-0 lead.
Hitless through the first two innings, Baylor (25-30) got it going in the top of the third with a leadoff single to center by Logan Brown. Redshirt freshman Joe Sabatini, getting just his third start of the year, followed with a single to left, to put two runners on with nobody out against Jayhawk starter Frank Duncan (6-3).
Nate Goodwin moved them up with a sacrifice bunt, and Lawton Langford tied it up with an RBI single to left.
The Bears loaded them up when Brett Doe was hit by a pitch, followed by an Adam Toth sacrifice fly to score Sabatini with the go-ahead run. Grayson Porter and Aaron Dodson kept the onslaught going, driving in Langford and Doe with RBI singles to give the Bears a 4-1 lead.
Tolson breezed through the fifth, giving up just two hits and getting bailed out with a couple of double plays, before getting touched for a pair of runs in the sixth.
After getting the first two batters in the sixth, Tolson gave up consecutive singles to Dakota Smith and Tucker Tharp and then a big two-run double to McKay that made it a one-run game, 4-3. Eldredge singled to left for the Jayhawks' fourth straight hit, but McKay was thrown out at home by Porter to keep the Bears on top.
"Once I got the call to start, I prepared myself mentally and went through my normal routine," said Tolson, who improved to 4-5 with his second win against a Big 12 opponent.
Smith said Tolson "got some strikeouts early in the game that I thought were important. He ate up innings, and we got a couple of timely double-play balls."
Making his first call to the pen, Smith went with freshman left-hander Daniel Castano in the seventh. Normally a weekend starter, Castano gave up a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Blair Beck before sitting down the next six batters in a row and keeping the lead intact.
Senior closer Josh Michalec worked around a one-out single by Eldredge and closed the door on the Jayhawks in the ninth to break the Big 12 single-season record with his 21st save in 22 chances. Coming into the tournament, he was tied with Oklahoma's Jeff Bajenaru (20, in 1999).
"It feels good. The only reason I have had success is because we have had team success," said Michalec, who had zero career saves coming into this season. "Without the hitting from the offense, I wouldn't be in position to break the record today. I'm glad they swung the bats and got timely hits. But it's just good to come out with a win."
The Bears improved to 29-30 all-time at the Big 12 Championship and 46-16 against Kansas after getting swept at home by the Jayhawks during the regular season.
Still facing a long uphill climb in the double-elimination tournament, Baylor will take a pitcher-by-committee approach for Friday's 3:15 p.m. elimination game against sixth-seeded West Virginia (28-25). The Mountaineers opened the tournament with a 10-9 win over Kansas before falling to TCU, 6-2.
In Thursday's other games, Oklahoma eliminated Texas Tech, 9-8, and Texas upset top-seeded Oklahoma State, 3-0. The Sooners and Cowboys renew their Bedlam rivalry in Friday's other elimination game at 7.
To advance to Sunday's 1 p.m. championship game for a chance to earn the league's automatic NCAA tournament berth, the Bears have to get by West Virginia on Friday and sweep a pair of games against the 13th-ranked Horned Frogs on Saturday.
Here is a link to the boxscore from Thursday's Baylor-Kansas baseball game.
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