By Daniel Hill
At one point this season, the Baylor baseball team was struggling with an 11-15 overall record and a 1-3 record in the Big 12. The outlook for the remainder of the season certainly did not seem optimistic, but a Baylor team with a history of success showed resiliency and is now in the hunt to defend its Big 12 Championship.
Since being 11-15, the Bears have been on a tear by winning 14 of their last 19 games to improve to a 25-20 record on the year.
In sports, winning is a contagious attitude, and last year the Bears experienced unprecedented success with a 49-17 season. It solidified the winning culture of Baylor baseball and put the attitude to win into the Baylor DNA.
When this season got off to a slow start, there was no sense of panic at all around Baylor baseball.
Veteran players and key seniors kept the clubhouse held together and positive. Seniors like right fielder Nathan Orf, third baseman Cal Towey, shortstop Jake Miller, first baseman Steve DalPorto, right-handed pitcher Crayton Bare and right-handed pitcher Max Garner have been the steady producers that have sparked Baylor’s recent run of success this season and their current five-game winning streak.
Whether the Bears are struggling or winning, the message and the mindset for the team remain the same.
“We try to win each pitch really,” Orf said. “In trying to do that and the trials that you’re going to go through, you just have to learn as much as you can, especially early on. I think if we win each pitch and have that mentality to compete each pitch and do learn each game by game for the year, then we are going to be quite a tough team to play against.”
Veteran players like Orf and Towey have certainly carried their fair share of the load the season.
Orf is batting a team-high .389 with 26 RBI, 29 runs, a slugging percentage of .463 and an on-base percentage of .481.
Towey has been the Bears’ best run producer this season with a team-high 42 RBIs and a .307 batting average. Orf and Towey are the only Baylor players with an above .300 batting average.
Orf and Towey have been the main carriers of the offense this season, but other players have definitely stepped up to help the Bears win this season.
“That’s what you hope to build as the season goes on,” associate head coach Steve Johnigan said. “You want one through nine to contribute because it’s hard for just two, three, four guys to do it. It’s very encouraging for those guys to come off this weekend and then swing it well going into Lawrence this weekend with a positive feeling. It’s nothing but good for our team.”
On Tuesday night, the back end of the Baylor lineup played a decisive role in leading the Bears to a 6-4 victory over UT Arlington. Baylor’s sixth through ninth hitters in the lineup combined to go 8-12 at the plate.
Sophomore center fielder Adam Toth had a monumental day with a career-high three hits. Toth also drove in a run and scored two runs himself.
“I think guys without much experience realize that they can play at this level and it’s not much different than any other level,” Orf said. “It’s just the same game of baseball, so guys realize they can do it and results show that.”
Sophomore designated hitter Duncan Wendel drove in two runs, and senior first baseman Steve DalPorto racked up three hits, a run and an RBI. Junior catcher Brett Doe was 2-4 with a run scored.
“It’s a very different team,” Wendel said. “It’s really just sticking with everybody’s approach of single, get a hit here and get a hit here. Instead of get the big hit here that’s the double or whatever. We’re just trying to be who we are. We have confidence in every single hitter, which is definitely nice. Whoever’s up at the plate is going to do their best job to get the run in and it’s been working so far.”
With the Baylor lineup seeing production from top to bottom, Baylor baseball is trending in the right direction with a five-game winning streak.
The Bears are also in the hunt for the Big 12 title. Oklahoma is currently in first place with a .667 winning percentage reflected in a 10-5 league record.
Baylor is just barely behind Oklahoma with a .647 winning percentage and 11-6 Big 12 Conference record.
With six regular-season Big 12 games remaining on the last seven games of the schedule, there are still plenty of opportunities for the Bears to take care of business and win a second-straight Big 12 Championship.
First the Bears travel to Kansas this weekend for a three-game series.
Then the Bears get an extended break in the schedule due to final exams.
The Bears host UTSA on May 14 in their last nonconference game of the season.
Baylor wraps up Big 12 play and the regular season with a road trip to Lubbock for a three-game series against Texas Tech.