May is typically a dark time on the college sports calendar. The excitement of March Madness has long passed. Spring football has come and gone. Now, we sit and wait and agonize counting down until Labor Day weekend when a new football season is upon us. There's little for a Baylor fan to do outside of an occasional recruiting nugget, right?
Well if you haven't been paying attention to what's been happening with your favorite college baseball team, you might want to start doing that! Baylor baseball has experienced a bit of a renaissance in 2017 under the leadership of second year coach Steve Rodriguez. The Bears pulled off a three game sweep of Oklahoma State over the weekend in Stillwater to improve to 32-17 on the season, far and away the best season the program has had since the memorable 2012 team that won a Big 12 title and came within a whisker of getting to Omaha. You might recall that a certain beaver was fed particularly well that spring.
The 2017 version of the Bears got off to a phenomenal 15-2 start but struggled at the outset of conference play against a Big 12 that is the #1 RPI conference in the country this season. The inexperience of Baylor's weekend rotation showed, the offense struggled to string big innings together, and as a result, wins came at the premium. But BU seemed to come up with a big win when it was most needed. Nowhere was this more evident than on April 9 when the Bears scored six runs in the 9th inning to salvage a 10-9 win over #4 Texas Tech to avoid a sweep in Lubbock. It's kickstarted a 12-5 stretch for Baylor leading into the final week of the regular season. And this has been a really fun team to watch over the last month. The Baylor offense has come to life, especially with the long ball as the Bears have smacked 24 home runs in their last 22 games. To put this in perspective, Baylor hit 17 home runs for the entire 2015 season!
But what had made this a fun team to watch is that there is not one true superstar that is leaned on heavily. Aaron Dodson (.918 OPS, 8 HR, 33 RBI) and Matt Menard (.313 BA, 57 H, 27 RBI) have made great contributions as senior leaders, helping the offense make a 60 point improvement in OPS from a year ago. Montana Parsons (5-2, 2.49 ERA) and Nick Lewis (6-4, 4.21 ERA) have provided stability to a weekend rotation that was a question mark entering the season. Davis Wendzel (.936 OPS, 6 HR, 25 RBI) and Shea Langeliers (.878 OPS, 8 HR, 33 RBI) have had outstanding freshman campaigns and are primed to be the future of Baylor baseball.
And to top it all off, the Bears have one of the best closers in the country in Troy Montemayor. The junior righthander has 12 saves and a WHIP of 0.84 to go with 25 strikeouts in his 21 innings of work. But perhaps the best stat to illustrate Montemayor's dominance is the fact that Baylor is 25-0 this season when leading after 7 innings. Montemayor along with strikeout specialist Kyle Hill (11.6 K/9) give the Bears a dynamic duo in the bullpen. And given the nature of tournament play, it is a huge weapon to have a shutdown bullpen when the NCAA Tournament rolls around in June.
Now at 11-10 in the Big 12, the Bears are all but assured an NCAA bid for the first time since the aforementioned 2012 season. With a strong finish to the regular season and in the Big 12 Tournament, Baylor could still conceivably earn the opportunity to host an NCAA regional. Regardless of how it finishes, it has been a fun year to be a Baylor baseball fan and it's great to see a proud program get back on its feet again.