The Baylor baseball players and coaches gathered in the Stone Room of the Ferrell Center to watch Monday’s NCAA selection show. Yet Aaron Dodson wished he could flee the room, as his stomach was turning somersaults.
“I didn’t want to be there, just because I was so nervous,” the senior first baseman said. “I just wanted to crawl up in my bed and watch it barely peeking through the covers. But it was fun for the team to be there, all the coaches to be there, some family members there. To see our name pop up, it’s something you don’t get to do, and it was awesome.”
Nervous energy gave way to jubilation for the Bears, as they earned a spot in the NCAA tournament field for the first time since 2012. Baylor was pegged as the No. 2 seed in the Houston Regional at Schroeder Park, and will face off against third-seeded Texas A&M (36-21) at 2 p.m. Friday in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.
Houston (40-19), the American Athletic Conference champion, is the host and top seed of the regional. The Cougars will draw fourth-seeded Iowa (38-20) at 7 p.m. Friday, in an ESPNU game.
For fifth-year senior Matt Menard the rest of BU’s veterans, the wait was finally over. For the first time in their careers, the front door bouncer waved them through into college baseball’s big dance.
“I think as soon as our name got called I just stood up and started jumping up and down,” Menard said. “There was so much excitement.”
These current Bears are plenty familiar with both the Aggies and Cougars. Baylor defeated Texas A&M, 6-3, in the finale of the Shriners Hospital for Children Houston College Classic, as Tucker Cascadden pounded a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth.
“I hope there’s a lot of good vibes to that,” said second-year BU head coach Steve Rodriguez, whose team won two of three at the Houston College Classic. “I like that our guys really rose to the occasion at Minute Maid (Park). I think it’s awesome that they did that. Hopefully they can do that again this weekend.”
As for Houston, Baylor hosted the Cougars in its final nonconference series on March 10-12. The Bears won two of three in that series.
The NCAA appearance is the 19th in Baylor program history, but the first for any of the team’s seniors. The Bears put them in position for an at-large bid with a hot start against a sturdy nonconference schedule, as Baylor went 15-2 prior to the start of Big 12 play. The Bears also tallied a 12-12 mark in conference, and the Big 12 recorded the No. 1 RPI of any conference.
Yet despite those credentials, Rodriguez admitted that his nerves were frayed. A number of upstart teams won their conference tournaments and earned automatic NCAA inclusion, thus stealing away some at-large berths from other teams. Rodriguez fully believed that his team was deserving, but didn’t know if the selection committee would feel the same way.
The coach sat in the back of the room for the selection show, full of restless anticipation but mostly so he could monitor his players.
“To be honest, there was still some skepticism on my part, just to make sure that you’re going to be in. You’re just hopeful that your name pops up there,” Rodriguez said. “Watching their reaction was pretty awesome, especially the upperclassmen. I kind of took an eye on them, just to see what they were doing. You could kind of see that there was a sigh of relief and some elation at the same time.
“Very happy for these guys, especially for the upperclassmen who have taken this team where it needs to be right now and get to go on one more week.”
Regional play will feature a double-elimination format among the four teams. The winner of the Houston Regional will advance to face the Chapel Hill (N.C.) Regional in the Super Regionals. The Chapel Hill foursome includes host North Carolina, Florida Gulf Coast, Michigan and Davidson.