By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
For the second year in a row, Baylor baseball’s “Road to Omaha” begins on the West Coast. The Bears are taking on “the city of stars” after being named the No. 2 seed in the Los Angeles regional, which will be hosted by the No. 1 nationally ranked UCLA Bruins.
While the team was surprised by their spot in the bracket, senior second baseman and California native Josh Bissonette said that they are excited to play there again.
“Last year we didn’t really expect to go to Stanford’s regional and so this year we were kind of like,’You just got to keep your eyes peeled you never know where they’re going to send us,’ and then in the first selection we see that we’re going to UCLA,” Bissonette said. “For me that’s a big deal because I’ll have a lot of friends and family to be there, and honestly, we have a lot of kids here from California who are going to be doing the same, so I think it’s exciting that we’re going there and it’s going to be a good experience.”
This is Baylor’s third straight regional appearance in the last four years and 21st regional appearance in program history. The opening bracket for the Los Angeles regional has the Bears matched up against three-seeded Loyola Marymount and No. 1- seeded UCLA will face No. 4 seed Omaha, who is making its first ever regional appearance.
Baylor is pretty familiar with the territory as they faced the Bruins for a non-conference road series early in the 2018 season. The Bears will definitely be challenged by UCLA who has remained on top of the national rankings all year long and earned their host spot after finishing the regular season on a 10-game winning streak with a 47-8 overall record, 25-4 in the Pac-12.
But despite the challenge of playing against the overall No. 1 seed, junior catcher Shea Langeliers said Baylor has the experience necessary to get the job done.
“These are the best 64 teams in the country. UCLA’s the best of the best and if we’re going to make it to Omaha, we have to go through them,” Langeliers said. “Playing there last year and having a bunch of guys that played there on this team last year is a huge advantage compared to the other teams in this regional.”
The Bears finished the regular season on somewhat of a sour note, dropping five of their last seven games and being unable to defend their 2018 Big 12 Tournament title after falling to Texas Christian in the elimination game. But overall Baylor had a stellar year, coming second in Big 12 play with a 14-8 conference record, 34-17 on the season. Even though the team didn’t finish exactly where they wanted, senior center fielder Richard Cunningham said they’re not going out of this regional without a fight.
“There was a lot we wanted to accomplish in regard to Big 12 regular season and then, obviously the Big 12 tournament, and we didn’t accomplish that. But you know what, last year we accomplished it and we go out of the regional in the first round. So, you never know how you’re going to draw it up,” Cunningham said.
As the No. 2 conference in the nation in terms of RPI, it was no surprise to head coach Steve Rodriguez that the Big 12 will be sending five of its teams into the NCAA regionals. Regular season champions Texas Tech will host for the second year in a row and after winning the 2019 Big 12 Tournament, Oklahoma State also received a host spot. For the first time since 1955, the West Virginia Mountaineers will host a regional as well. The biggest surprise of the day was TCU’s at-large bid into the tournament. Despite ranking No. 59 in RPI, the Horned Frogs late season rally earned them a selection. Rodriguez, however, was not surprised by how well the Big 12 fared in the bracket.
“When you see TCU getting in, what people don’t realize is they have the ability to win a regional with that pitching staff. It’s one of the best pitching staffs in the country,” Rodriguez said. “And it just kind of shows, I mean, we’re the No. 2 conference in the country and the teams established that. I was really happy with what our conference did as a whole. To be honest I think we probably could have gotten one more team in there.”
The opening game between Baylor and Loyola-Marymount is slated for 3 p.m. CT on Friday, May 31 at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium.