When Baylor senior Dan Evatt, the third best hitter on the team, struck out swinging in the bottom of the tenth inning Monday night in the NCAA Super Regional in Waco against Arkansas, it marked a gut-wrenching conclusion to a sensational season for the Bears and also brought to a close the baseball season in the Big 12 Conference.
Just 24 hours earlier, the Big 12 regular-season champion was just one away from sweeping its super regional with. the Razorbacks and topping off what would have been a 50-win year and one the best baseball season's in school history with a deserved trip to the College World Series, but .the Bears were never able to secure that game-ending out and, instead, Arkansas managed to score twice courtesy of an infield error and two hit batsmen and steal the game and, ultimately, the season away from the host Bears.
Monday's deciding third game between the Razorbacks and Bears couldn't have been a more classic final game. The game was scoreless through the regulation nine innings, but Arkansas scratched out a run in the top half of the tenth. Baylor could not match it in the home half of the inning, despite leaving two runners stranded, sending the Razorbacks to Omaha instead of a fourth appearance by the Baylor and dashing the Big 12's hopes of having a team in the CWS for a fourth consecutive year.
Despite the heartbreaking ending, there is no denying that Baylor enjoyed a very special season. The Bears finished with an overall record of 49-17 and started off the conference portion of their schedule with 18 consecutive wins on their way to the regular-season championship. They won every series but one against Big 12 opponents. Only a three-game sweep at the hands of Oklahoma in Norman marred what otherwise would have been eight straight winning series against conference foes.
The season also ended for the Oklahoma Sooners on Monday. Facing elimination on following a 5-0 shutout on Saturday to two-time defending NCAA champion South Carolina, the Sooners' game on Sunday with the Gamecocks was suspended in a scoreless tie after five and a half innings because of rain. Unfortunately, this merely delayed the inevitable for OU, as South Carolina scored twice in the seventh and three more times in the eighth when the game was resumed Monday to close out the Sooners 5-1 and douse OU's vision of an 11th College World Series appearance.
Baylor coach Steve Smith and OU's Sunny Golloway both expressed tremendous pride and respect for what their teams were able to achieve this season.
"We lost 25 games (in 2012), and we went toe-to-toe with a team that has won back-to-back national championships," Golloway said. "It's hard to lose that many games and get this far. I am extremely proud."
Said Baylor's Smith: "I'm really proud of the fact that we had a super-regional round. The players involved got to experience an incredible game in from of incredible fans and (at) a great ballpark," he said. "I think we had some opportunities, and they (Arkansas) was up to the task. They had a couple themselves, and we were up to it as well. You can analyze it all day long, but that's the way it is."
Baylor and Oklahoma weren't the only Big 12 teams that had good, if not great, years in 2012. Texas A&M finished second in the regular season after sharing the conference crown a year ago. The Aggies, who along with the Missouri Tigers, played their final season in the Big 12 (both schools will join the Southeastern Conference, beginning in July), joined OU, Baylor and Missouri as the Big 12's lone participants this season in the NCAA Baseball Championship.
Missouri received the conference's automatic bid by winning the conference championship tournament, beating Oklahoma 8-7. Neither the Tigers nor the Aggies were able to escape the regional round, however.
Baylor's .309 team batting average was the best in the Big 12 and ranked 12th in the country. Texas A&M had the best pitching staff in the league, and their collective ERA of 2.92, lead by starters Michael Wacha and Ross Stripling, was the ninth best in the nation.
Left-hander Andrew Heaney of Oklahoma State was the first Big 12 player taken in the 2012 Major League Baseball amateur draft held last week. The junior starter had an 8-2 records in 15 games and compile a conference-best 1.60 ERA. He was the ninth overall selection in the draft by the Miami Marlins.
Forty-six Big 12 players were selected in the draft, including three in the first round (Tyler Naquin and Wacha, both from A&M, were picked 15th and 19th by the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively). Naquin was the Big 12's best hitter in 2012 with a .380 average through all games.
Seven of the nine Big 12 teams ended the year with a winning percentage above .500. Only Kansas and Kansas State completed the season with losing records in all games.
Three conference teams - Texas A&M, Texas and Oklahoma - began the season ranked in the top 25 college baseball poll, and Baylor, No. 2, and Texas A&M, No. 8, finished the year ranked in the top ten in the final regular-season USA Today/ESPN coaches poll. Oklahoma was ranked 26th in the USA Today poll, but was ranked as high as 12th by Collegiate Baseball after the Sooners Charlottesville (Va.) regional championship.
Not great by championship standards, but a very good season nonetheless, despite the postseason disappointment.
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