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Thompson's Young Bears are Steadily Improving: A Baylor Baseball Update

March 21, 2023
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“This is going to be the way that we feel until we do something about it,” coach Mitch Thompson said, kicking the dirt with his head down after being swept handily by Mercer on March 12.

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Baylor has won three of its last four games and opened conference play with a series win over Kansas State.

“There are things that we can control that we’ve got to control … We’re finding ways to get beat, and we’re going to have to find ways to win.”

Nine days ago, confidence seemed to be cracking, and tensions appeared to be rising for the Baylor baseball team. The Bears had come off another demoralizing series loss where the pitching was subpar, and the offense would be best described as lackluster.

Fast forward to a week later, Baylor has rattled off wins in three of its last four games and opened conference play with a series victory over Kansas State.

The young and inexperienced roster is showing tangible signs of improvement and, finally, has some wins to show for it.

Statistically, over this four-game stretch, the Bears have only allowed one “big inning” where the opposing team has scored three or more runs. In the three weeks prior, the pitching staff surrendered 20 “big innings.”

Offensively, Baylor has reached 10 or more hits in three of its last four contests; over the 16 games prior to last Tuesday, that had only happened four times.

Aside from freshman phenom Kolby Branch leading the offense at the top of the order, other players are starting to make an impact in the lineup consistently. 

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For the first time this season, sophomore Cort Castle started three consecutive games behind the plate.

Junior infielder Cole Posey has had multi-hit performances in four straight games. 

Sophomore catcher Cortlan Castle went 6-for-11 at the plate in the Kansas State series while providing exceptional defense behind it.

Transfers Hunter Simmons and Hunter Teplanszky have combined for 12 hits, eight RBIs and six runs in 25 at-bats during the hot stretch.

As for the rest of the team, they are steadily improving. Sophomore Mason Marriott tossed six solid innings in Saturday’s victory, and veterans Cole Stasio and Hambleton Oliver remain steady presences in the backend of the bullpen.

“I’m so proud of these guys to see how everybody bounces back,” Posey said after Saturday’s win over KSU. 

“You go and read the comments on social media, and you see [negativity], and people are already down and out on the Bears. But that’s not how the clubhouse is at all. We know what we are. We know that we are young, but we are growing … Sometimes, the performances we put up are not indicative of how we feel or what we are trying to do. But the team morale is still super high, and the coaches have been phenomenal at keeping us on our P’s and Q’s and not letting us get negative.”

But the key to all the recent success might be the return of the 6-foot-6 righty from Waco, Will Rigney. Rigney was fantastic in the weekend rotation in 2022 before suffering a season-ending injury last April.

After a long climb-back and rehab process that prevented him from participating in fall ball, Rigney returned to the mound for one inning of work in the backend of a blowout loss to Duke on Feb. 24.

A step in the right direction was then set back again after multiple minor injury flare-ups. However, against Rice on March 14, two and a half weeks later, Rigney made his first start of the season. 

In only two innings on the bump, the junior righty struck out five of the six batters he faced and did not allow a hit or run on 28 pitches. Rigney’s return propelled Baylor to end its three-game losing streak with a 6-0 shutout victory over Rice.

Five days later, on Sunday, the Bears were trailing Kansas State 4-0 in the fourth inning when Thompson made the call to the bullpen.

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Junior Will Rigney has recorded 18 outs on the season; 13 have been strikeouts.

Rigney entered and injected life into the dugout and dominated the Wildcats in the middle innings, tossing three perfect frames and striking out six on 33 pitches.

The offense would go on to put up an eight-spot in the bottom of the sixth to secure the come-from-behind victory.

“Today, I think what brought [the offense] to another level was Will Rigney,” Simmons said after Sunday’s series-clinching win. 

“Will was the spark of energy that we needed in that fourth and that fifth inning. He was the biggest part of today’s win. I could go on and on about our approach, our hitting, whatever, but today was solely on Will Rigney.”

While it’s clear Rigney’s towering presence on the mound gives the entire team energy, it will be much more dependent on his health on whether he’ll be the Sunday starter moving forward, but Thompson says, “he’s definitely moving in that direction.”

After complete performances in three of the last four games, the Baylor team is starting to find ways to win, a stark contrast to a week ago when the young Bears were finding ways to lose.

Levi Caraway - SicEm365
Junior INF Cole Posey is 8-for-15 at the plate over the last four games.

“There’s going to be some ups and downs, and we’re going to grow,” Thompson said after beating KSU on Sunday.

“We should learn something today that one guy can change the temperature of a team. One guy. So which guy is it going to be? … If we’ll figure that out then we’ll grow up, and we’ll keep getting better. That’s part of the process for us, but it was a big win for sure.”

While the roster is probably still a year or so away, Thompson and his staff have the ballclub competing in every single game. If Baylor can maintain the level of energy they have displayed this week, it’ll make for a fun and interesting rest of the season.

The Bears finish their 14-game homestand with a Tuesday til against Sam Houston (13-8) at 6:30 p.m. at Baylor Ballpark.

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Thompson's Young Bears are Steadily Improving: A Baylor Baseball Update

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