By Shehan Jeyarajah
No. 12 Baylor softball started off the season with three challenging tournaments, but held strong with a 12-3 record, including a 3-1 record against ranked teams.
Baylor (12-3) will travel to Hattiesburg, Miss., to take on Southern Mississippi (4-10) in a double-header today.
“Heading into the double-header, we’ll be looking to get some experience for the younger players who will be traveling with us,” Baylor assistant coach Pete Vamvakas said. “It’s going to be a great trip, Southern Miss is typically a great team. They had a tough start to the season; their record doesn’t reflect how good they actually are. We’re excited about the competition.”
Baylor comes into this game after a 4-1 performance in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic. The Bears defeated No. 14 Stanford and No. 19 Missouri, among others, and outscored their opponents 28-9 over the course of the tournament.
Senior left-hander Whitney Canion was named Big 12 Softball Pitcher of the Week after not allowing an earned run in 21 innings on the way to a 3-0 record and a save in the Nutter Classic.
“I think the key for me is mixing it and being unpredictable,” Canion said. “Low, high, fastball, changeup, I’ve been using all my pitches instead of relying on just one. Leading off with a home run against Stanford too, I think our offense is setting the tone.”
Senior catcher Clare Hosack is hitting .368 on the season with three homers and 16 RBIs to lead Baylor while slugging .711 in 14 starts. As a team, the Bears are hitting .327 and slugging .474 despite playing one of the toughest schedules in the country. The pitching staff has been dominant to start the year. Canion is 7-2 with a 1.10 ERA and 65 strikeouts in only nine starts and 57.1 innings pitched.
Sophomore right-hander Heather Stearns has allowed only six earned runs in 26.0 innings pitched and boasts a 5-1 record. Opponents are hitting .190 and slugging .292 against the Bears. Sophomore infielder Sarah Evans leads the Southern Miss offense with a .607 slugging percentage and .357 average in 28 at-bats. The Golden Eagles hit .248 as a team and have been outscored 84-37 in their 14 games.
Southern Mississippi pitchers combine for a 6.55 ERA. Junior right-hander Shelbee Rodgers is 2-4 in her six starts with a 6.10 ERA in 31.0 innings pitched. The Golden Eagles allow opponents to hit .350. Baylor should be able to take advantage of Southern Miss offensively.
“It’s great to get some experience for the young players,” Vamvakas said. “Injury-wise, you never know what could happen, so you want some of these younger players to get some experience in these games.”
Baylor played a double-header against Southern Miss last season in Waco. The Bears swept the series 2-0. Canion took the first win in a 2-0 shutout where she allowed only one hit and struck out 12.
Junior right fielder Kaitlyn Thumann went 3-for-4 in the victory with a run scored.
Stearns pitched a complete game, 2-1, victory in the second. Stearns did not allow an earned run while throwing eight strikeouts. Stearns added a game-winning walk-off homer in the bottom of the seventh.
“To get ready for Southern Miss, we have to get our mind right since we’ve been traveling so much,” senior catcher Clare Hosack said. “We’re trying to calm down so we can rest and reset so we can come out strong.”
Baylor is coming off of its third straight week with a tournament after playing in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Palm Springs, Calif., over the past weekend.
“It’s tough not playing many home games, but I love going everywhere,” Canion said. “It seems like we’re in a new state almost every weekend. The experience of all these tournaments is really fun.”
Baylor will play at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. today against Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Miss.