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Baylor Baseball Keeps Winning Momentum
April 19, 2012
By Wendell Barnhouse | Correspondent

Based on Baylor's sports success during the 2011-12 academic year, it should come as no surprise that the school's baseball team is on a record-setting tear.

Baylor set a school record with its 21st consecutive victory Wednesday and takes a 15-0 Big 12 Conference record into an important weekend series with Texas A&M. The Bears will play the Aggies in College Station at 6:35 p.m. Friday with the final two games of the series scheduled for Waco Saturday and Sunday.

A national championship in women's basketball, a Heisman Trophy winner, 10-win season and a bowl victory in football, a record-setting 30 victories in men's basketball and an Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA Tournament set the stage for coach Steve Smith's team. They have taken that momentum and built on it.

"It's been a long time coming," Smith said. "It's been a long time since I spoke to people in January when they had smiles on their faces. We're certainly enjoying what's going on."

Baylor was picked fourth in the coaches' preseason poll behind Texas A&M, Texas and Oklahoma. If the Aggies don't take at least two-of-three this weekend, the Bears will be difficult to catch.

Smith says there is no magic formula to his team's success. He says "we hit it OK, we can catch it, we throw it pretty good." The Bears have a solid lineup and a deep pitching staff led by starters Trent Blank (8-0, 2.48 ERA) and Josh Turley (5-0, 2.02 ERA).Smith has used 19 pitchers, the most he's ever sent to the mound in a single season.

But this season's success might have started with the gut punch that ended last season. In the NCAA regional, Baylor and a two-run lead going into the bottom of the ninth against Cal. With a victory, the Bears were likely to host Dallas Baptist in the Super Regional. A three-run rally by the "other" Bears ended Baylor's season.

"Emotionally, it was like a death," said Smith, whose team is 32-7 overall. "It has impacted this season quite a bit. We imploded, nobody to blame but ourselves. I don't think the players have completely forgotten about it. They came back in the fall determined."

Baylor's 15-0 start is the best ever in Big 12 play. The Bears' 21-game winning streak equals the Big 12 record that Texas set in 2010. Baylor started Conference play with three consecutive series at home.

"We were 6-0 and Texas was 5-1 in two road series and I would have traded with 'em," Smith said. "It was important for us to get off to a good start. We didn't need to go on the road and maybe get in a hole early.

"It's like running a marathon. We're all running the same race in the Big 12, we just start at different places on the course. We happened to start going downhill and if you're doing that, you better make some hay. Eventually you go on the uphill part. We're going to finish going uphill."

Blank has become quite a story and has given the Bears an outstanding No. 2 starter behind Turley. A change in his delivery that has him throwing more sidearm has baffled opposing hitters. Blank's emergence, the motivation from last season, the return of most of last year's lineup are some of the factors for Baylor's success but the team also has found a mascot/rallying cry.

The Bears' winning streak coincides with a beaver - thought to be from the nearby Brazos River - visiting the Baylor Ballpark parking lot. The players started feeding it acorns and the beaver became a regular visitor. A stuffed toy beaver is now a fixture in the Baylor dugout. When a player delivers a key hit, teammates yell "feed the beaver."

The California Angels had rally monkey, the St. Louis Cardinals adopted a rally squirrel, the Texas Rangers have the claw and the antlers. The Bears are following recent wild life trends.

"As a coach, when you know your guys are prepared and you know they're hooked up and locked in, then you can deal with their mistakes and their shortcomings much better," Smith said. "I don't know that I ever thought I would coach long enough to get to the place where you have a team that really puts you at ease. This one has done that."

Oklahoma turning it around
Oklahoma was swept by Texas and Texas A&M, losing to the Longhorns in Norman and to the Aggies in College Station. In each series, the Sooners lost Game One in extra innings and then struggled to overcome the defeats.

The Sooners, though, might have turned their season around last week. Oklahoma started with a 4-0 victory over No. 9 Arkansas and then swept Missouri. Game One against the Tigers was delayed for over three hours by severe weather that included tornado. The Sooners won 6-5 ... in 10 innings.

"I don't think I could have handled another Friday night extra-inning loss," Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway said. "You tell me what speech you give to this team if it happens a third time?"

Oklahoma defeated Oral Roberts this week and is 23-14 overall going into a nonconference series with Alabama State this weekend.

"We don't have many mulligans," Golloway said. "We set a number before the Arkansas game, a record that we've got to go. Well, we've got (five) in the win column since then ... we're back in the hunt."

Extra bases
Kansas sophomore right hander Frank Duncan doesn't have a victory in his last seven appearances despite being dominant. For the past month, he has allowed just 14 earned runs in 40 innings and held opponents to a .204 batting average. Duncan is in his first season as a starter and in the Big 12 he ranks sixth in batting average against (.221) and fifth in strikeouts (58).

Kansas State visits Missouri this weekend and will try to beat the Tigers for the first time in a series since 2004. Mizzou has a 15-5 record against the Wildcats since then but hasn't swept K-State since 2005.

Freshman Parker French, who will take the mound for Texas this weekend when the Longhorns host Kansas in a three-game series, has been lights out at UFCU Disch-Falk Field this season. In 25.1 innings, he has yet to allow a run. UT's pitching staff has been similarly dominant at home with a 1.40 ERA in 16 home games.

Baylor tied the record set by Texas Tech in 2004 for most Big12 Player of the Week honors in a season. The Bears have had five thus far. Baylor's Josh Ludy is the latest player of the week honoree. He hit batting .647 (11-for-17) in five games with four home runs and 12 RBI. He set a school record for RBI in a Big 12 series when he had 11 in the Bears' sweep at Kansas State. Ludy also was named the Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week.

On the day he signed a contract extension through 2015, Augie Garrido managed his1,000th game at Texas. Garrido also has 275 Big 12 victories; he needs four more to surpass the record holder, Texas Tech's Larry Hays.

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