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It’s truly fitting that sophomore second baseman Lawton Langford is the rock to Baylor’s offensive lineup.
As the Bears prepare for rival Texas A&M this weekend with an amazing and nation-leading 21-game hitting streak, it isn’t elite prospect and power hitting first baseman Max Muncy, or ultra-talented outfielder Logan Vick leading the charge. Instead, it’s the 5-foot-10, 165-pound, surprising infielder doing the honors.
Coming from the small Texas town of Uvalde, Langford had some transitions to make as a true freshman for the Bears two seasons ago. He didn't make an impact his first year in the program, instead having a redshirt campaign. Then, as a redshirt freshman last season, he batted just .222 with three RBIs and a .327 on-base percentage.
Life has changed in many more ways than one for Langford this year. He’s no longer the .222 hitting infielder. Now, he’s hitting a team-best .383 with 17 RBIs and a .500 OBP, one of the nation's best hitters, coincidentally for the nation’s hottest teams.
"One thing I worked on during the offseason was getting much stronger," Langford said. "In addition to that, I worked pretty hard on just improving my approach at the plate. I try to just stay in there and be a line-drive hitter, while working the count. I'm not one of those people that goes out there and tries to be someone they're not."
Langford's incredible offensive campaign thus far has caught everyone's attention, especially that of Baylor hitting coach Steve Johnigan.
"The most important thing about Lawton other than his increased strength is the simple fact he knows who he is. He knows he's a contact hitter who controls the bat really well," he said. "He understands and accepts that, and he's learned to adjust to that. He never tries to do things he's not able to do. He's just not that type of guy.
"He does a superb job of finding ways to get on base. He has great command of the strike zone as a hitter," Johnigan continued. "When he puts the ball in play, he's probably hitting .475. He does still strike out a little too much, but that's something we're working on. He has a great swing."
In addition to his increased strength and better approach at the plate, Langford has received another motivational boost this season, stemming from a tough family situation earlier this year.
Langford's higher calling came in January via a call from one of his brothers. Voice cracking and obviously shook up, Lawton was told that his younger brother, 14-year-old Nolan, had been in a serious four-wheeler accident. He had to get to San Antonio as soon as possible.
Nolan, whose hobby was riding around on four-wheelers, had turned onto a very familiar and little traveled country road around Uvalde, Texas. On this day, a fast-approaching truck blind-sided Nolan's four-wheeler, sending he and the four-wheeler tumbling across the highway.
"I knew it wasn't good. I just hopped in the car and headed to San Antonio. Really, at that point, I didn't know what happened or how severe it was," Lawton said. "I figured nothing too bad happened, just a broken leg or something, where it would just take some time to recover."
Turns out the situation was more serious than Lawton imagined. Nolan didn't have life-threatening injuries, but doctors were forced to amputate his leg -- at 14-years-old.
"It was one of those things. You see people in life with amputated limbs, but you never think it could happen to someone in your family," he said. "It shocked me. It was a punch in the gut. It showed me what life really is all about."
Since Nolan's accident, Langford has had a fresh outlook on life, one where baseball is just a side show. It's just a hobby, something he just loves to do. In the past, he'd get frustrated when he struck out or made a mistake in the field. Now, he has learned to brush off those type of failures in baseball. After all, Lawton knows more than anyone things could be a lot worse.
Even more of a motivating factor is that despite his road blocks, Nolan and Lawton's parents still make a point to travel 270 miles each way to Waco for his games, having not missed a home series since the Bears returned from a road trip to the West Coast to face UCLA.
"He [Nolan] has taught me to never take anything for granted. There are going to be some days where some players don't want to be on the field. I don't have those kind of days anymore," he said. "My brother's spirit has been so high and he's the type that'd do anything to get on a baseball field. Honestly, I just think God for each day I have."
With Nolan always in attendance at weekend home games and Lawton's magic bat leading the charge, the Bears have evolved into one of the nation's elite offensive units this spring. They finished last season with just a .265 batting average, but are up 52 points this season at .317.
In addition to Langford, several other Bears have risen to the occasion at the plate. For instance, senior catcher Josh Ludy hit just .278 last season, but is second on the team in hitting with a .370 average, six home runs and 46 RBIs. Meanwhile, Logan Vick and Max Muncy both are meeting expectations, hitting .326 and .318, respectively, with very solid overall numbers.
"We knew these guys had the talent to do something special offensively, but they had to believe in it. They've bought into that vision," Johnigan said. "From the leadoff hitter to the nine-hole, everyone in our lineup has a chance to really help us out a lot."
Baylor continues to live by its motto, "process before outcome". The Bears were just one win away from reaching an NCAA Super Regional last season before dropping two-straight games to California, which eventually moved on to the College World Series.
Now, motivated more than ever and sitting at 32-7 overall, 15-0 in the Big 12, the Bears appear to have a team primed to get to Omaha for the first time since 2005. But they're not talking about it.
As the Bears have done all-season long, they continue to take things game-by-game, a process that has worked to near perfection.
And most importantly, they take absolutely nothing granted.
Baylor's leading hitter, Lawton Langford, knows that best.Baylor (32-7) -- What an incredible run the Bears are on right now. They’re doing everything right. From the starting and relief pitching being solid to the offense being ultra productive, the Bears are in fantastic shape headed down the stretch. It’ll be interesting to see how BU finishes the season with rivals Texas A&M and Texas still on the schedule.
Maine (20-14) -- Steve Trimper’s Black Bears might not have a chance to reach the NCAA postseason via at-large bid, but they’re certainly making their case in the America East title race. Maine is 7-0 in the league, but most impressive is the fact it has won 13-straight games. The Black Bears don’t face Stony Brook, another solid America East squad, until the final weekend of the regular season.
Purdue (29-5) -- The Boilermakers might’ve had some doubters a few weeks ago, but that’s certainly no longer the case. They continue to dominate opposing teams in the Big Ten, and are in fantastic shape, already up 2 1/2 games in the conference regular season title race. Furthermore, the Boilermakers are winners of nine-straight games with a road series against Nebraska coming up this weekend.
LSU (30-7) -- It’s pretty impressive to see the run the Tigers are on right now. They had a relatively easy week on the diamond last week, earning a home weekend series sweep over Alabama. Meanwhile, as a whole, the Tigers have won nine of their last 10 games and are in the midst of a six-game winning streak. Next up for LSU is a huge road series against Kentucky.
TCU (21-13) -- It only was a couple of weeks ago the Horned Frogs surely looked like they didn’t belong in the NCAA postseason. Now, things are looking a little differently as we head toward the final stretch of the regular season. The Frogs are tied with New Mexico atop the MWC standings, are 7-3 in their last 10 games and are winners of seven-straight games.