Category archive: Baylor Bears

OKLAHOMA CITY -- What is there to say after one of the longest games in the history of the Women's College World Series?

"Good morning," Baylor shortstop Dani Leal offered as she took her seat at the postgame press conference a good few minutes beyond midnight.

Well, yeah, that about summed up Saturday night.

Baylor and Missouri traded zeroes deep into the night at Hall of Fame Stadium in hopes of earning the chance to take the field on Sunday. As it turned out, that wish came true for both, if only briefly. With two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the 13th, and the clock ticking past midnight, Baylor redshirt freshman Holy Holl lined a home run to left field for a 1-0 win and a date with Arizona State after about a 14-hour break.

Holl might seem an unlikely hero, given the winner was just her second home run in 140 at-bats this season. She might seem doubly so considering Missouri ace Chelsea Thomas had already accumulated two of her 19 strikeouts at Holl's expense by the time the final at-bat rolled around (then again, in her second start of the day after an earlier win against Oklahoma, Thomas struck out every Baylor starter at least once). But intent on at least going down swinging after she was caught looking earlier in the game, Holl lived up to her reputation within the team, even if those fans still watching in the stadium and at home wondered who she was.

"She's a lot of fun to be around," Baylor junior third baseman Megan Turk said. "She's got a lot of energy And even though she'll get frustrated and everything, you know she wants it. She's a very passionate player; she loves the game. She's always aggressive hitting. I think she's really underrated on this team. … She's just so resilient. We keep pushing through and pushing through, and Holly is a big part of this team."

It was the second win in three days by way of an extra-inning, walk-off home run for the Bears, a team that ranks 84th in the nation in home runs per game, wedged between Nevada and Georgia Southern, who it goes without saying, didn't quite make it to Oklahoma City. The first came Thursday from Kelsi Kettler, a part-time player with five extra-base hits who was in the lineup partly because regular starter Claire Hosack wasn't yet ready to return from injury.

The second game-winner was only marginally less surprising. As Turk also noted in making the case for Holl as an underrated hitter, she does lead the team with 11 doubles, the only player in double digits. But she had just the one home run before the game against Missouri and began the season fighting for playing time after redshirting last season. After the season's first weekend, Baylor coach Glenn Moore was cautiously optimistic, with an emphasis on the cautious.

"She's important. Now, I don't think she's a lock for that position," Moore said of Holl on Feb. 13. "I like the [left-handed bat], I like how aggressive she is, I like the way she's playing defense. So we've got a little depth, a few options."

Safe to say he made the right call. It's also safe to say he was a bit more effusive in his praise for her and all his players after this win.

"I'm just so stinking proud of these girls," Moore said, the extra modifier as close to a show of emotion as we're likely to see from him in public.

The true star Saturday night and Sunday morning was Whitney Canion, the ace who stood toe to toe with a brilliant performance from Thomas and held Missouri to just two hits, all the while maximizing her pitch count (strange as that sounds for someone who logged 177 pitches on the night). Whatever happens when Canion goes back to the circle Sunday against Arizona State, she has already announced herself as a top contender for USA Softball Player of the Year next season, and in turn, announced Baylor's national championship intentions behind her.

But when Baylor keep getting impromptu stars like Holl and Kettler, it's safe to wonder if the future might already be here. It sure felt like there was no end in sight to the present Saturday night.

Teams to watch, Lone Star State bout and more

March, 3, 2009
• There will be a lot of talk about the top of the ticket at this weekend's tournament hosted by the University of Alabama, which features a pair of games between No. 1 Washington and No. 3 Alabama. But Baylor, along with Georgia, will also be on hand in Tuscaloosa, and the Bears are starting to look like a team to watch.

Glenn Moore's team wrapped up a perfect weekend Sunday, albeit against unranked competition in Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers, and sits at 17-3 overall. A year after the Bears struggled to find quality innings in the circle following Lisa Ferguson's graduation, Whitney Canion is out of the gates quickly in the race for top freshman pitching honors. Canion is 10-2 with 117 strikeouts in 81 2/3 innings, including 15 strikeouts and a win in 13 innings against then-No. 1 Florida last month. To put those numbers in some perspective, last season's staff combined for 192 strikeouts in 306 1/3 innings.

• Houston slipped out of the Top 25 last week, and a month into the season, it's still looking for its second shutout of the post-Angel Shamblin era in the circle. But the Cougars did register one of last weekend's notable results in a 3-2 win against Michigan at the weather-shortened Leadoff Classic. Bailee Lott picked up the win for the Cougars, and with an offense averaging five runs per game against a quality schedule, they still have the tools to help out a pitching staff in rebuilding mode.

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Danielle Spaulding
Jeff Camarti/UNC Athletic Communications North Carolina's Danielle Spaulding has struck out 98 batters in 47 innings this season.

Texas A&M visits Houston in perhaps the best midweek offering on the national schedule, with the Aggies fresh off taking two of three from Arizona.

But beyond what should be an intriguing game in the battle for Lone Star bragging rights, it's also the third annual "Striking Out Breast Cancer" game at Houston's Cougar Softball Stadium. Cougar players will wear pink jerseys and batting helmets, which will be autographed and auctioned as part of a silent auction, with proceeds going to the Houston affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure charity.

For the third time in as many events, Veronica Nordstrom will throw out the ceremonial first pitch to her daughter, Elaina. The elder Nordstrom is a cancer survivor, and in last year's event, Elaina hit a walk-off grand slam against Texas.

• It's not easy to believe (or maybe that's just me who wonders where February went), but North Carolina kicks off ACC play with an important three-game set against Florida State in just six days. That series caps off a run of seven games in five days for the Tar Heels, who play Elon, Georgetown, Michigan State and Princeton this weekend.

The Tar Heels were washed out at the Tennessee classic last weekend, costing them a marquee game against the host Lady Vols, but the team from Chapel Hill has been rolling since a pair of one-run defeats in the opening week. Even the one loss in the interim, a 4-2 setback against Fresno State at the Cathedral City Classic, couldn't stop the Tar Heels for long. Trailing Oregon State a few hours after the Fresno game, UNC rallied for four runs in the top of the seventh and secured a 5-2 win.

That doesn't seem like the sign of a team stuck on last season's postseason disaster, which saw North Carolina go two-and-barbeque on its own field in regionals.

But perhaps it is indicative of a team that knows it can count on its runs to stand up behind Danielle Spaulding and Lisa Norris. The pitchers have allowed just 11 earned runs in 92 1/3 innings this season combined, splitting duties almost exactly equally.

"They're so solid when they go out on the mound," Papa said. "They're two really quality pitchers. They could be starters on any team, the No. 1 on any team. It's just that we have a good complement. And they all like each other and they get along well."

Spaulding, in particular, has been almost unhittable, allowing just 19 hits -- and only four extra-base hits -- in 47 innings, while striking out 98. The Californian throws the ball hard enough, reaching the mid-to-upper 60s in Cathedral City when there was a gun on her, but her ability to move the ball in both the vertical and horizontal planes is what catches the eye.

"My favorite and best pitch is the rise ball," Spaulding said. "I probably throw that 85 percent of the time. … Even when it's not on, I still throw it, just because that's my pitch. I mean, I usually always get a strike with that. That and the curveball is my other go-to pitch."

• And finally, I'm going to try to aggregate the weekly award winners in this space on a regular basis, so we'll see how that goes. For the most recent week of competition:

Pitcher: Karla Wilburn, Virginia
Player: Sarah Tacke, Virginia

Atlantic 10
Pitcher: Brandice Balschmiter, Massachusetts
Player: Carly Normandin, Massachusetts

Big 12
Pitcher: Rhiannon Kliesing, Texas A&M
Player: Holly Ridley, Texas A&M

Big East
Pitcher: Brittany Gardner, Syracuse
Player: Colby Wherry, Louisville

Big Ten
Pitcher: Kim Reeder, Ohio State
Player: Lindsey Hansen, Michigan State

Big West
Pitcher: Anna Cahn, Cal Poly
Player: Kristin Pocock, Long Beach State; Nicole Matson, Pacific (shared)

Mountain West
Pitcher: Kelli Eubanks, Colorado State
Player: Jessica Camello, San Diego State

Pitcher: Donna Kerr, UCLA
Player: Renee Welty, Arizona State

Pitcher: Stacey Nelson, Florida
Player: Francesca Enea, Florida

Pitcher: Mallary Darby, Nevada
Player: Tanisha Milca, Hawaii