Baylor Baseball: Tucker Cascadden Walk-Off Grand Slam

      “That was one of the craziest days of my life,” said Valdez, a .190 hitter when he came off the bench as a pinch-hitter in the seventh. “I’ve been a part of a couple (walk-off wins), but I’ve never done it. It’s still the same feeling, your team getting the last hit to win. But, never anything like that in my life.”
            With its third win over a top-10 team this season, the Bears (26-24, 7-15) punched their ticket to the Big 12 Championship for the 25th-consecutive time. As the probable No. 8 seed, they would face top-seeded and 15th-ranked TCU (33-18, 16-8) in the first round of the tournament next Wednesday at Globe Life Field in Arlington.
            “I don’t know what happened with Kansas,” Baylor coach Rodriguez said of the ninth-place Jayhawks (20-33, 4-18), who were eliminated by Texas, 12-4, earlier in the day. “But, it was nice to know that we got in the way we should have got in.”
            Trailing 9-2 after five innings and 11-3 going into the bottom of the seventh, Baylor looked like it might have to get some help from Texas. But in the end, no help was needed.
            OSU starter Victor Mederos effectively shut down the Bears through the first six innings, giving up just three runs (two earned) on three hits and no walks with three strikeouts. Despite throwing just 75 pitches, Mederos came out after giving up a solo homer to Jared McKenzie in the sixth, exiting with a seemingly safe 11-3 lead.
            On the flip side, the Cowboys (34-18, 13-9) knocked reigning Big 12 Pitcher of the Week Jake Jackson out early. After working around a pair of one-out hits in the first, Jackson gave up nine runs (seven earned) on 12 hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in 4.2 innings.  
            Even with the odds stacked against them, McKenzie said the Bears had to “get up there and have that attitude of, ‘Hey, I’m better than you on the mound.’ If you’re able to do that, you’re able to see good results. If you hit the ball hard or you strike out, you’re going to get another opportunity, so go make the most of it.”
            Those opportunities came in bunches in the bottom of the seventh, when the Bears brought 13 batters to the plate against four OSU relievers. Going to his bench, Rodriguez used pinch-hitters Beau Wimpee and Valdez, who combined for three hits, a pair of walks and four runs in six plate appearances.
            “You’re just trying to find something different,” Rodriguez said. “Those guys do a really good job of taking pitches and getting on base, and they have some speed. So, I can do some things with them. You have guys who might have a little more power or play better defense, but sometimes I’m just looking for baserunners. And luckily, it made me look like a decent coach tonight.”
            Wimpee led off the seventh with a walk off reliever Roman Phansalkar, then Harrison Caley and Jacob Shoenvogel followed with one-out hits to score a pair of runs. The comeback seemed to grow legs when Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo reached on a throwing error by shortstop Marcus Brown.
            After Baylor loaded the bases with a Jack Pineda double to left and a Tre Richardson walk, McKenzie deposited a full-count fastball by reliever Dillon Marsh well over the wall in right-center for a grand-slam homer that made it a one-run ballgame, 11-10.
            “In warmups, he kept dropping his shoulder down with the lower-arm slot, and he also had the breaking ball from the low-arm slot,” McKenzie said of Marsh. “I was waiting for him to come over top. Sure enough, he did, the fastball was coming, and I was able to hit it.”
            Rodriguez called McKenzie’s second homer in as many at-bats a “monster grand slam to put us within one.” The third-year sophomore centerfielder went 3-for-4 with a career-high five RBIs and also scored three runs.
            “I’m just proud and happy that these guys had the tenacity that they had all throughout the game,” he said. “It would have been easy to fold it up when it was (11-3). But, they didn’t, they kept pounding.”
            The Bears were able to scratch across the tying run, when Wimpee drew a two-out walk, went to second on a wild pitch and scored the tying run on Caley’s single up the middle.
            “We know, with this team and this offense . . . we’re never out of anything,” Valdez said. “Together, we’ve just got to stay poised as a group and go up there and have quality at-bats. That’s the whole thing, we know we can get back in any game.”
            A beleaguered Baylor bullpen that blew a 5-1 lead in Sunday’s series finale at Kansas State last weekend came through in a big way. Matt Voelker worked around a pair of walks in the eighth, then induced a double-play grounder in the ninth, before Adam Muirhead (1-0) struck out dangerous hitter Nolan McLean swinging on a 3-2 fastball.
            “At some point, those guys came out and said, ‘Hey, we’re just going to power it with our best stuff, and whatever happens, happens,”’ Rodriguez said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to have the character to go out there and do different things, because obviously the other stuff wasn’t working at times. Those guys did exactly what we wanted them to do.”
            After Schoenvogel led off the bottom of the ninth with a flare single to center, Valdez tried and failed twice to get a sacrifice bunt down and found himself in an 0-2 hole in a hurry. But, he stayed alive in a seven-pitch at-bat and made reliever Hueston Morrill (1-2) pay when he blasted a shot that bounced off and over the wall in right-center field.
            “I had no idea (it was going out),” said Valdez, who hit his fourth career homer and first of the 2022 season. “I was just hoping that Beau could get to second base, because that was my job going in. That’s all I was trying to do. I was really scared when I saw it hit the top of the wall, and I saw (OSU rightfielder Jaxson Crull) keep looking at it. I really had no idea.”
            Baylor goes for the series win with Friday’s 6:30 p.m. Game 2, with the series finale scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday. Rodriguez said he’s still undecided on his starter for Friday’s game.
            “Hopefully, we can come out here and win this weekend,” McKenzie said, “and take that momentum into the Big 12 tournament.”
            Thanks to a “Miracle on the Brazos,” the Bears at least know they’ll be in next week’s Big 12 tournament.