By Steve Parkhurst March 4, 2022
HOUSTON - The remaining eight games of this weekend's Shriners Children's College Classic have a lot to live up to after Baylor defeated UCLA 2-1 on Friday to open the weekend tournament at Minute Maid Park.
In a game that last just over two hours, fans in Houston were treated to a pitcher’s duel when Baylor starter Tyler Thomas faced UCLA and Jake Brooks.
In a rarity for baseball at any level, both starting pitchers carried perfect games into the fourth inning.
Neither team had any offense until Baylor shortstop Jack Pineda lined a single into right field to lead off the bottom of the fourth. Two outs later, Kyle Nevin homered off the wall deep in left-center to give the Bears a 2-0 lead. Nevin thought he had walked on the previous pitch and had begun his walk to first base when the home plate umpire called the pitch a strike. Nevin (2-for-3) was the only Baylor player with multiple hits in the game.
UCLA picked up its first base hit with one out in the top of the fifth when Cody Schrier singled to left field. Schrier was was 2-for-4 on Friday, the only Bruins batter with multiple hits in the game.
Pinch-hitter Carson Yates delivered for UCLA with a one-out home run in the top of the ninth to make the score 2-1. Head coach Steve Rodriguez visited Thomas on the mound, but opted to leave him in the game with two outs. But a single by Daylen Reyes drove Thomas from the game after 8 2/3 innings pitched.
UCLA then loaded the bases after a walk and a hit batter. But Mason Marriott induced Schrier into a game-ending groundout to second base as Baylor secured the 2-1 victory. Thomas (2-1) earned the win with his ten strike out performance where he only allowed four hits and did not walk a batter.
Thomas offered the secret to his Friday success and he kept it simple, "Get ahead early. Throwing that first pitch strike was crucial. Pounding the zone after that too."
Brooks (2-1) was the hard luck loser, his first loss of the season, on his one mistake in his eight innings where he allowed three hits and struck out seven while not walking any Baylor batters.
Baylor head coach Steve Rodriguez was asked after the game about Nevin's home run, the only Baylor offense in the game, "It was an elevated off-speed pitch, which he got to, he was a little out in front of it. That's something that we've actually been trying to work on is making sure that when he gets those pitches he doesn't miss them."
"Gotta hand it to Brooks from UCLA he just did a great job just keeping guys off-balance, his changeup was really diving well and our guys just had a tough time squaring him up," Rodriguez said.
Asked about pitching a big game against a good team on a big stage like Friday presented, "It's fun," Thomas said. "It's a blast."
Baylor returns to action in this tournament on Saturday at 3pm against Tennessee while UCLA gets another morning game on Saturday when they face Oklahoma at 11am.
Steve Parkhurst is a baseball writer based in Houston, Texas