Two narrow losses to Arkansas in the NCAA Super Regional kept Baylor baseball from returning to Omaha and the College World Series, but a look back at the 2012 season shows that the year deserves to be remembered among the best in program history.
"I'm extremely proud of my guys, and probably the most proud I've ever been of Baylor and our fans," said head coach Steve Smith, BSED '86, after the season was complete. "This has been a really special group of guys. As a coach, this is my 18th team here. I don't want to disrespect any other team with this, but this group of guys embraced me and loved me as a group more than with any other group I've been around, and I wanted them to be successful; I wanted them to take that next step. That's why I was so proud of our fans for showing up and staying behind them. These guys deserved that, and I was proud to see them get it."
After being picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 and starting the year unranked, the Bears finished with 49 wins, one shy of the program record set in 1999, and claimed the program's third Big 12 championship.
A midseason 24-game winning streak took the Bears from outside the top 25 up to No. 1 in the nation for two weeks, the first time the program had ever reached the top spot in the rankings. The streak included an 18-0 start to Big 12 play and helped the Bears clinch the Big 12 regular season title on May 5, the earliest of any team in league history.
Baylor swept the Big 12's Player (catcher Josh Ludy), Newcomer (DH Nathan Orf) and Coach of the Year (Steve Smith) honors. League coaches picked a school-record 11 BU players as All-Big 12, including seven first-team honorees. Four Bears -- Ludy, outfielder Logan Vick, and starting pitchers Josh Turley and Trent Blank -- were named Collegiate Baseball/Louisville Slugger All-Americans, the most ever by a Big 12 team.
Turley was one of 30 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award (baseball's Heisman), while Ludy and Blank were semifinalists for another national player of the year award, the Dick Howser Trophy. Ludy was also named a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award (recognizing the nation's top catcher), and reliever Kolt Browder earned Academic All-America recognition, the Bears' fourth in four years.
Smith earned his 650th career win in mid April, surpassing Mickey Sullivan, BS '55 -- Smith's predecessor and head coach during his Baylor playing days in the early 1980s -- as the program's leader for career victories.
The year's success earned Baylor the No. 4 national seed when the NCAA tournament bracket was announced in May, and the Bears hosted a regional and super regional at Baylor Ballpark. By season's end, both total and average home attendance had surpassed all previous records (126,932 total and 3,255 average). Six of the 10 largest crowds in Baylor Ballpark history came this season, including an overflow gathering of 5,911 that saw the Bears shut out Texas A&M 1-0 on April 21.
The Bears finished the season ranked No. 9 in the final ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 10 by Baseball America.