Of all the equipment in Steve Rodriguez’s coaching toolbox, a crystal ball is lacking.
The Baylor baseball coach doesn’t know for certain what will happen when the NCAA tournament field is revealed in an 11 a.m. Monday selection show on ESPNU. But Rodriguez thinks his team ought to be in the field, based on the body of work it has compiled.
“I really do think so,” he said. “We’ve played against some of the best in the country, and we’ve played well, including in our own conference. We went to Washington and won a game there, we had some great neutral site wins at the Shriner’s Classic (in Houston). I think what we’ve done on the field warrants a spot in the postseason, but I’m sure there are a lot of coaches who feel that way.”
Working against the Bears (34-21) is a toe-stumping finish that saw them drop the final two games of the regular season to Kansas State, plus a quick exit at the Big 12 tournament. However, the two tournament losses were to a pair of top 20-RPI teams in West Virginia and Texas Tech, and Baylor’s own RPI sits at a respectable 21st nationally.
Moreover, Baylor went 22-7 in nonconference play and sports a winning record at both home (20-11) and on the road (12-7).
Bracket projections over the past few weeks by various college baseball media have routinely included Baylor in the field. Most have the Bears safely in, as a No. 2 seed. None, however, has agreed on where the Bears might end up traveling. They’ve been slated everywhere from Long Beach, Calif., to Winston-Salem, N.C., while a recent bracket prediction by the website CollegeSportsMadness.com predicted the Bears staying in state and going to a regional hosted by the University of Houston. (The NCAA baseball selection committee does try to incorporate geography into its pairings.)
To Rodriguez, the destination doesn’t really matter, only the inclusion.
“Just getting in is the most important thing,” Rodriguez said. “Look, once you get in there are 64 teams who have a chance to win a national championship. The second you complain about, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t have ended up in that place,’ it cheapens the excitement of making a regional.”
It’s likely that the Baylor players would be willing to travel to the moon if it meant playing in an NCAA regional. The program’s last trip to the postseason came in 2012, so none of the team’s current players have ever experienced the tournament in a BU uniform. (Junior pitcher Alex Phillips played for Arkansas in 2014 when the Hogs made the NCAA field.)
Rodriguez wants nothing more than to give Baylor’s veterans a chance to experience that playoff excitement.
“For me, that’s what I’ve wanted to accomplish for these guys, even going back to last year,” Rodriguez said. “Every senior should have the chance to experience an NCAA regional at least once. So, I want that for guys like Aaron Dodson, Matt Menard, Kameron Esthay, guys who have weathered the storm, been through a coaching change, and taken this team and advanced it. I want it for those guys.”