Baylor Ballpark, Waco, Texas (Host: Baylor)
No. 1 Baylor (44-14, 20-4 in Big 12)
18th appearance (fourth straight), at-large, Big 12 regular-season champion
No. 4 national seed
No. 2 Dallas Baptist (39-17)
Third appearance (second straight), at-large, independent
No. 3 Texas-Arlington (36-23, 19-14 in Southland)
Fifth appearance (last in 2006), automatic, Southland tournament champion
No. 4 Oral Roberts (37-23, 17-6 in Summit)
24th appearance (15th straight), automatic, Summit League regular-season and tournament champion
Baylor was on the verge of winning a regional last year before melting down in the ninth inning against California, and that experience made the Bears tougher. Opposing coaches say this Baylor team plays with more energy and confidence than any Bears club in recent memory, and coach Steve Smith has said this team stays focused on the moment better than any team he’s coached in Waco, helping it put together a 24-game winning streak while starting Big 12 play 18-0. The Bears have hard-nosed veterans up and down the lineup, led by senior catcher Josh Ludy (.363/.452/.622, 13 HR, 64 RBI). Ludy entered the season with five career home runs in three seasons but added power to his solid catch-and-throw skills and captured Big 12 player of the year honors. Dan Evatt (7 HR), Max Muncy (6 HR, 52 RBI) and Cal Towey (5 HR) also bring some pop, but the team’s most dynamic player is center fielder Logan Vick (.347/.444/.492, 23 2B, 16 SB). On the mound, Baylor lacks overpowering arms but has a pair of ultra-competitive winners with good feel for pitching in ace lefty Josh Turley (9-0, 1.64) and righty Trent Blank (10-1, 2.07), the latter of whom has thrived with a lower arm slot this year. Baylor has been much more beatable in the last three weeks than it was earlier in the season, but the Bears are still a very balanced, complete club with a strong chance to make their first run to Omaha since 2005.
Dallas Baptist, like Baylor, was shaped by its postseason experience in 2011. But in DBU’s case, winning a regional elevated the players’ confidence level and expectations for themselves. Dallas Baptist more than held its own against a Missouri Valley Conference schedule this year, and the strong year for the MVC helped the Patriots build a robust RPI and earn a No. 2 seed in this regional. DBU coach Dan Heefner said midway through the season that he regarded his bullpen as the team’s greatest strength. Physical closer Stuart Pudenz (5-1, 1.23, 8 SV) has a 92-93 mph fastball that reaches 95, a split-finger and a hard slider. Fourth-year junior Michael Smith (4-1, 2.93, 6 SV) has built upon his strong 2011 campaign to join Pudenz as a bullpen co-anchor; Smith works in the 88-91 range and has an out pitch in an exceptionally hard slider at 82-85. The rotation also has a quality one-two punch in senior lefty Taylor Massey (8-4, 3.46) and freshman righthander Cy Sneed (8-4, 3.98), though neither has overpowering stuff. The Patriots have the most pop of any team in this regional, ranking seventh in the nation in homers per game and fourth in slugging (.479). Ryan Behmanesh (.402/.489/.714, 8 HR, 32 RBI) overcame a broken hamate bone to blossom into a key power threat alongside Boomer Collins (.376, 12 HR, 55 RBI) and Joel Hutter (.338, 11 HR, 66 RBI).
Texas-Arlington was a thorn in the side of the Lone Star State’s big-name powers this spring, winning midweek games against Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU and Texas A&M, though it was swept in a two-game midweek series against Dallas Baptist. The Mavericks head into regionals riding a seven-game winning streak, including a 4-0 run through the Southland Conference tournament. The UTA bats have gotten hot lately, averaging 8.3 runs per game over the last two weeks during their winning streak. The centerpiece of the lineup is junior Preston Beck (.335/.443/.591, 13 HR, 70 RBI), the latest in UTA’s tradition of talented slugging outfielders (following in the footsteps of Hunter Pence and Michael Choice). Beck offers average speed, plus arm strength, good power and a patient plate approach. UTA’s leading hitter, Ryan Walker (.368), is an accomplished table-setter in the No. 2 hole and also plays solid defense at shortstop (.952 fielding percentage). Workhorse senior righthander Lance Day (12-3, 2.98) gives Arlington a competitive No. 1 starter, and lefty Adam Boydston (2.15 ERA, 8 SV) gives UTA another senior to anchor the bullpen.
Oral Roberts started 10-13 against a rigorous nonconference schedule, which included road series at Baylor and Cal State Fullerton plus a four-game set against Missouri State. The Golden Eagles fended off challenges from North Dakota State and Oakland to win the Summit League regular-season title by a game, then rebounded from a loss to North Dakota State to win the conference tournament, capped by back-to-back wins against the Bison. ORU coach Rob Walton said back in March that his team would be dangerous if it could get into a regional, because it has a trio of power-armed starters in Drew Bowen (6-2, 1.87), Alex Gonzalez (6-2, 2.04) and Kurt Giller (6-4, 3.39). Bowen, the No. 1 starter, thrives off a lively sinker but mixes in an effective slider and changeup, and he doesn’t figure to back down from the top-seeded Bears (he threw five shutout innings against them in the season-opener in Waco). Oral Roberts also has some thump in its lineup courtsey of senior first baseman Jared Schlehuber (.322, 13 HR, 55 RBI), talented freshman third baseman Jose Trevino (.318, 13 HR, 55 RBI) and switch-hitting senior Cam Schiller (.313, 8 HR, 50 RBI). And junior Bennett Pickar is one of the team’s most valuable players; he rates among college baseball’s best defenders, with a plus arm that he used to throw out 41 percent of basestealers.