By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
There are moments that define a baseball program — moments that stay in the minds of players, coaches and fans alike and add to their love of the game.
One of those defining moments in Baylor baseball history happened on June 21, 2005. On that day the Bears came back from a 7-0 deficit to beat top-ranked Tulane 8-7 in the College World Series.
The story of that comeback victory, which took place at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium on South 13th Street in Omaha, Neb., on a muggy 90-degree summer night, actually began two years before in 2003.
The Bears were facing off against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., at Alex Box Stadium in a Super Regional championship after splitting the series with a win in game one and a loss in game two. The Tigers sent Baylor home that night in a 20-5 blowout.
That next season was a rough ride for the Bears. In 2004, Baylor missed the postseason alltogether with a 29-31 overall record. Out of 23 one-run games, 16 of them were losses for the Bears.
Baylor had something to prove coming into 2005, especially with 21 letter winners returning.
“We got back in 2005, and they kind of had a chip on their shoulder,” said former Baylor assistant coach Steve Johnigan.
The Bears battled their way into a split conference title with Nebraska that spring — anchored not by their offense — but by a veteran pitching staff and strong defense. John Werner, who covered Baylor baseball for the Waco Tribune-Herald for 25 years, said the team had the most well-balanced staff of any he’d ever seen at Baylor.
“It was a lights-out pitching staff,” Werner said. “They had a lot of good hitters, but they only hit .269 as a team, which is kind of low, but they played really good defense [and] hit in the clutch.”
After defeating Stanford in extra innings thanks to a game-winning home run and stellar relief pitching by first baseman Jeff Mandel, Baylor hosted Clemson in a Super Regional. The Tigers took game one 4-2, but the Bears came back to take game two 7-1 behind a double-digit strikeout performance by Mark McCormick, Baylor’s only first-round draft pick in 2005.
Then, on June 13, 2005, Kevin Sevigny hit a three-run double in the fourth inning to put Baylor ahead in a 6-1 win over Clemson. The Bears were going to Omaha for the first time in 27 years.
Entering the College World Series, the Bears were matched up against a familiar foe. The Texas Longhorns had finished 16-10 in Big 12 play — good for third — and had already lost to Baylor four times that season, getting swept to open conference play and falling by one run in the Big 12 Tournament. However, Texas refused to lose to Baylor a fifth time that year and took the opening game of the CWS 5-1.
It was win or go home for the Bears from then on out. Baylor faced Oregon State the next day, coming out on top with a 10-inning win and another successful outing by Mandel in relief.
The stage was set for the Bears to face the Tulane Green Wave. Tulane held on to the No. 1 national ranking for most of the season, starting the year with an eight-game win streak before falling 5-2 to Steve Rodriguez’s second-year Pepperdine squad in late February. The Green Wave bounced back to take the series from the Waves and sparked another win streak.
Tulane had beaten Oregon State 3-1 to start the CWS but was shut out by Texas to fall into the loser’s bracket and the game against Baylor.
Baylor was the underdog. All year they had battled through games, the pitching staff pulling them through. But there they were, on the greatest stage in collegiate baseball, against the No. 1 team in the country, knowing they had what it took to beat them.
“They played the same there as they had played the whole year,” said former Baylor baseball head coach Steve Smith. “Sometimes you get to Omaha and just the arena itself — just the environment itself — can really cause players to get out of who they are, but that was not the case. We were very much who we were … the ballpark and the circumstances of the situation didn’t really determine the outcome of the games.”
Starting for the Bears was sophomore lefty Cory VanAllen, who had been Big 12 Pitcher of the Week for two consecutive weeks to start the season and had become a mainstay in the starting rotation. As good of a pitcher as VanAllen was, the Green Wave hitters shelled him that day.
“You got to give credit to Tulane, too. Tulane was an impressive offensive ball club,” said Johnigan, who was the pitching coach that season. “They were a really explosive ball club.”
Tulane scored six runs in the second inning, which included a two-run home run by left fielder Mark Hamilton. A double by right fielder Brian Bogusevic made it a 7-0 game in the fifth.
The Bears didn’t panic.
“The guys had been there before,” Smith said. “And you know, sometimes when you get that far down in a baseball game it can really help relax you.”
After 4.2 innings, six hits, seven runs and two walks, VanAllen gave way for Abe Woody to take over the mound. Werner said Baylor started to gain confidence when Woody began to close the door on the Tulane offense. Over 4.1 innings, the relief pitcher allowed only two hits off the Green Wave bats. Smith and Johnigan said Woody had always been a consistent competitor.
“When we recruited Abe, he was kind of a shortstop-pitcher,” Smith said. “He hadn’t pitched a lot … but Abe’s best tool was his arm. He had a good live fastball. He threw from really more of a three-quarter squat — it wasn’t a normal, typical flat, so from a hitter’s perspective, they didn’t see that kind of arm all the time.”
With Woody keeping the Tulane hitters at bay, it was time for Baylor’s offense to get creative. The Bears scored three runs in the seventh, starting with a run by shortstop Paul Witt on a wild pitch. Second baseman Michael Griffin then drove in Sevigny with a double and came around to score on a single by first baseman Kyle Reynolds.
In the eighth, right fielder Seth Fortenberry and Witt got on base with back-to-back singles off Tulane reliever Daniel Latham. With Sevigny at the plate, the Baylor base runners took the chance on a double steal and pulled it off, coming in to score on Griffin’s bouncing two-run single in the next at-bat. Smith said going for the steal was a decision he made knowing the risks, but he knew it was what it would take for the Bears to have a chance.
“We weren’t going to get two or three hits an inning. That wasn’t who we were as an offense,” Smith said. “So, we’ve got two guys that can run on, and I thought it was there.”
Smith said his decision even drew criticism from Harold Reynolds, who was calling the game for ESPN, but it paid off and Griffin allowed Fortenberry and Witt to score, cutting the lead to two. Reynolds came into the dugout the next day to apologize for “bad mouthing” the Bears. Smith said it hadn’t really mattered to them. They were just trying to win.
The score was 7-5 in favor of the Green Wave in the bottom of the ninth inning. Baylor veteran catcher Josh Ford earned a leadoff single that spelled the end of Latham’s outing in relief. Tulane sent in Sean Morgan who immediately gave up a single to Baylor left fielder Reid Brees, the younger brother of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
Then came the moment that shifted the momentum in Baylor’s favor. Designated hitter Zach Dillon stepped up to the plate and squared around to bunt.
“I can still picture that fake bunt,” Werner said. “[Dillon] pulls back at the last minute and then just slashes it down the first base line for the double.”
Dillon’s hit bounced over first, giving Mandel, who came in to pinch run for Ford, enough time to reach home and cut the lead to one. With Brees at third and Dillon at second, Brandon Gomes replaced Morgan and walked third baseman Kevin Russo to load the bases and then got Fortenberry out on a fly ball.
Witt came up to the plate, living the moment that every ball player dreams of (or dreads). Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, one out, Baylor’s fate lying on the handle of his bat, Witt sent a hopping tailor-made double-play ball straight to second base.
Brees came home as Tulane second baseman Joe Holland stepped on the second-base bag and turned to throw to first. Dillon was heading to third, looking to find the ball as he rounded the bag. Johnigan, who was coaching third base in that game said it was a big-time moment because of Dillon’s baseball smarts.
“One of the things you teach your base runners is that when they get to third base, and they’re not going to score, to find the ball immediately,” Johnigan said. “[Dillon] got to third, and he turned and found the ball immediately, saw that it got past the first baseman and went to the screen… he reacted immediately to get to home plate.”
Holland’s throw to first went out wide. First baseman Micah Owings hurried after the ball and threw home. But it was too late. Dillon had already scored the winning run and Rosenblatt Stadium erupted.
The Bears would get knocked out of the tournament by the Longhorns in a 4-3 loss, but their comeback win against a talented Tulane squad, which later came to be known as “The Miracle on 13th Street,” has gone down in history as Baylor baseball’s most memorable game. Werner said it was the most fun he had covering a Baylor baseball game, and that it was funny that out of all of all the years and out of all the squads that could have made it to Omaha, it was the team that everybody counted out that broke the drought.
“I remember Steve Smith saying at the end of that  season, ‘I’ll take my chances with these guys next year,’” Werner said.
The Bears haven’t made it back to Omaha since, but that, folks, is just baseball sometimes.
“There’s just so many variables in the game that you can’t control,” Smith said. “As a coach, it’s a very difficult thing because there’s just very little you can do. As a player, you try to get a good pitch, put a good swing on it … You can do all the right things in a game and still lose. I’m sure Tulane feels like that. You know, they didn’t do anything wrong in that game. We just did a few things right and we got the last at-bat.”