The Bases: The Baylor Bears had one of the best years in program history, winning an outright conference title for only the second time ever as four players earned All-America honors en route to the No. 4 overall national seed. The Bears posted a 44-14 overall record (29-3 at home) and the second-best winning percentage in Big 12 annals, going 20-4: Like 2005, when the Bears last made the College World Series, Baylor doesn't have to leave Waco if they don't lose.
The Scoop: Baylor's chances at a national title ride first on the arms of starters Josh Turley and Trent Blank. The lineup is led by cleanup catcher Josh Ludy (sporting a .363/.452/.622 line) and Big 12 Player of the Year Logan Vick (.347/.444/.492).
The Experts' Take: Baylor's play-by-play man Tom Barfield and color analyst Lark Smith took some time to talk with SBNation Dallas about the Bears' season and hopes for making up for a painful out in 2011 in this year's tournament. Their thoughts are below, with notes in parentheses:
On The Waco Competition: Barfield: "Everyone coming into Waco can play good baseball. UT-Arlington beat the Bears in Arlington; it's silly to think any of the three can't play. Even though they're a 4-seed, Oral Roberts played (Baylor) in the very first three games of the year, and two of the three were decided by one run, and the Bears had to score late (to win)."
On The "X-Factor": Barfield: "(Left fielder) Dan Evatt had a hamstring issue late in the year, after a good year. He could get hot-that's just a guess, but he's coming off injury issues and could come back strong."
Smith: "(First baseman) Max Muncy, I call him the silent assassin. His home run numbers were down this year, but that's because people were pitching him away, away, away. Ludy and Vick got all the press, but (Muncy) was going the other way all year, and I think he's really the player to watch when it comes to the big leagues. He's a real student of the game, a real wonderful defensive player, and most scouts seem to project him as a second baseman in the big leagues."
On Pitching: Smith: "Behind Turley and Blank, they are going to need a third starter to step it up. (Joey) Hainsfurther is one who might do it, or senior transfer Tyler Bremer, he had a good game against Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament. Dillon Newman or Brad Kuntz, those are guys that could get called on for some outs. Austin Stone made several midweek starts, and he's got a lot of confidence in himself and from the coaching staff."
On Motivation: Barfield: "This team is going to play for 27 outs, ever since that loss to California. They've not just spoke it, they've lived it. If somebody beats them, it will be the better team."
Smith: "(Baylor) had already beat Rice in Houston, and they just needed to hold onto a 3-run lead against California to come back to Waco for the Super Regionals. I think they learned their lesson from that loss."
The Schedule: Baylor opens the 2012 NCAA Baseball Tournament against Oral Roberts in Waco at 6 p.m. CDT, with Tom Barfield and Lark Smith on the call for 1660 AM ESPN Waco