At the time, 30 wins seemed like a pipe dream.
Back on April 8, coming off seven straight Big 12 losses that included road sweeps at Oklahoma and Texas, Baylor’s baseball team found itself sitting at 14-16 overall and 3-9 in the conference. Steve Rodriguez wasn’t ready to wave the white flag of surrender, however, so the Baylor coach threw out the goal of getting to 30 wins, as improbable as it might have seemed to anyone outside of the dugout.
“I kind of went through the schedule — road, home, who we’re playing, where we’re playing them, all that,” Rodriguez said. “And I just kind of thought, ‘If we can get to 30 wins, we’re going to make that decision very difficult for that (NCAA tournament) committee.’ And that’s what I told them: ‘Look, you guys need to worry about 30 wins. How and where you get them, I’m not going to worry about that. You just need to get to 30 wins.’”
“And they did,” Rodriguez added, smiling. “I should have said 35, but I was trying to be reasonable.”
After winning 16 of its past 18 games, Baylor (30-18, 11-10) has indeed reached the 30-win plateau. Several players pointed to an April 10 game against Sam Houston State as the turning point. The Bears pulled out a 4-2 win over the Bearkats in 12 innings in Huntsville, and from there discovered a newfound energy and assurance.
“Ever since then, I think the hitters got confident that they could actually score runs,” Baylor closer Troy Montemayor said. “And they’ve exploded. That’s kind of what’s fueling us. I think the pitching has been good all year, and (the hitting is) finally starting to mesh with the pitching.”
The Bears trek back onto the road for their final Big 12 series of the season beginning Thursday, facing West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va. Baylor sits at No. 49 in the latest college baseball RPI, while the Mountaineers come in at No. 45.
So it’s an opportunity for the Bears to take another step up the ladder, playing a higher-ranked team on the road.
“What’s nice is I don’t have to deal with it,” Rodriguez said. “They just tell me what’s going on. So, we’re going to go out there and play. And then the Big 12 tournament, these guys are kind of in a neat place right now in regards to their attitude and their approach to everything. Everybody talked about the phenomenal start we had last year. And it was great, except for how hard we finished. This year, hopefully it’s different.”
So far, it’s been vastly different. In 2017, Baylor closed the year on a six-game losing streak, including dropping a pair of games at the Big 12 tournament and two more at the NCAA’s Houston Regional. The conference and possibly NCAA tournaments still await, but the Bears at least have set themselves up well, having won three straight Big 12 series for the first time since 2013.
Funny thing is, some of the players sensed this run was coming. Shea Langeliers was one who called his shot, so to speak, predicting a BU surge prior to the team leaving for Memphis in mid-April.
“I felt like we were bound to go on a run like this,” Langeliers said. “Last year, we started the season with a run like we had this past few weeks. And I just felt like this team was coming together and getting closer and closer every week. Something like this was going to happen, for sure.”
Baylor junior DH Richard Cunningham has notched two awards this week, as he was named the Big 12 Player of the Week on Monday and picked up the Bobby Bragan Collegiate Slugger of the Week honor on Wednesday. Cunningham hit .524 (11-for-21) in five games last week, with 10 runs, three doubles, three home runs and seven RBIs. … Baylor outfielder Cole Haring is the reigning Big 12 Newcomer of the Week. The junior transfer from McLennan hit .500 (9-for-18) with eight runs, two home runs and seven RBIs. … Baylor is ranked No. 27 by Collegiate Baseball. … BU third baseman Davis Wendzel owns a 37-game on-base streak, the program’s longest since David Murphy reached base safely in 39 straight games in 2003.