Waco Tribune-Herald:Familiar foes return for Baylor regional

May 29, 2012

May 29, 2012

Article reprinted with the permission of The Waco Tribune-Herald.

By BRICE CHERRY

The Baylor Bears were weekend warriors this season, sweeping their first six Big 12 series and winning seven out of eight of them in all.

But the Bears understood that they'd also have to be sharp in their mid-week, non-conference games if they wanted to land a top seed for the NCAA tournament.

They were, and now Baylor will reunite with some of those same familiar non-conference opponents.

Baylor (44-14) was rewarded with a No. 4 national seed for the NCAA baseball tournament Monday, and will play host to three familiar foes in the Waco Regional -- Dallas Baptist (39-17), UT-Arlington (36-23) and Oral Roberts (37-24).

"It shapes up like great crowds," Baylor coach Steve Smith said. "It shapes up really, really good for the fans of all those schools."

Opening with DBU

The Bears are the top seed in the regional and will face Oral Roberts in their opener at 6 p.m. Friday at Baylor Ballpark. The first game of the regional pits second-seeded Dallas Baptist against UT-Arlington at 1 p.m.

The event will continue through the weekend, with teams being eliminated after their second loss.

Should Baylor win the regional, it would host the Houston Regional winner in the best-of-three Super Regional round the following weekend. That grouping includes host and top-seeded Rice, second-seeded Arkansas, third-seeded Sam Houston State and fourth-seeded Prairie View A&M.

But the Super Regionals are down the road, and the Bears don't plan on thinking that far ahead.

Series advantage

"It's going to be a tough regional," Baylor pitcher Josh Turley said. "They're going to be gunning for us, all there other teams -- Oral Roberts, Dallas Baptist and UTA. We're just going to have to play our best baseball and stick with the process. That's what we've been doing all year."

For a scouting report on their regional opponents, the Bears will merely need to dig into their memory banks. Baylor swept Oral Roberts in a season-opening series at Baylor Ballpark, winning the first two games by the same 3-2 score when freshman Michael Howard drew pinch-hit, bases-loaded walks in the ninth inning of both games.

Meanwhile, UT-Arlington knocked off Baylor, 5-4, in mid-March in Arlington, a game in which the Bears' defense unraveled in the ninth inning, allowing three runs. But Baylor returned the favor in Waco in April, as Tyler Bremer struck out a career-high nine batters in a 6-4 BU win.

Baylor played Dallas Baptist in a mid-week game late last season, and ironically would have hosted the Patriots in a Super Regional if the Bears had been able to hold off California in the Houston Regional final.

"It's funny, because we went into that game against Cal last year thinking, 'If we just beat them again, we might get DBU,' " Turley said. "And that whole thought process ended up wrong for us, because instead of focusing like we have this year on one game at a time, we looked too far ahead and that cost us. We're not doing that anymore."

Best seeding in history

Baylor is hosting for the fourth time in school history, and its No. 4 overall seed ties for the best seeding in school history.

Asked what such a reward meant to his program, Smith said, "Respect. A lot of respect nationally, which I'm proud of. I'm proud for Baylor. This is as competitive a sport in the NCAA as there is. The ground is not level, and so for us to be able to get in the discussion nationally on any kind of a regular basis is really remarkable."

Stretching out in their own digs should benefit the Bears, who sport a national-best 22-game home winning streak entering the NCAA tournament. For the season, Baylor is 29-3 at Baylor Ballpark.

"Anytime you get a chance to play at your home park, it's an advantage," Baylor catcher Josh Ludy said. "For us, to have one of the nicest stadiums in the country and have some of the best fans in the world, it's definitely a big boost for us."

Unlike past years, the Bears weren't nervous or anxious as they gathered to watch Monday's NCAA selection show. They already knew they'd be hosting, and figured that they'd land a top eight seed as well.

The lack of suspense was kind of nice, they said.

"Usually at this point, we're about four games over .500 and we're not even sure if we're making it into the tournament," Ludy said. "So to be able to sit there and see our name called that early as the No. 4 national seed was definitely very exciting."

Bear Facts: Smith said that injured outfielders Logan Vick (bruised knee) and Dan Evatt (sore hamstring) should both be in the lineup for the regional. "Neither one of them has something that will keep them out," he said. . . . Baylor advanced through the regional round in two of the three (1999 and 2005) previous times it hosted, but was eliminated after two games in 2000. . . . Games in the Waco Regional won't be televised, but live video will be available on BaylorBears.com.