By Shehan Jeyarajah
After a difficult non-conference slate that included 10 teams in the top 34 of the ESPN/USA Softball poll, No. 12 Baylor softball emerged as one of the hottest teams in the country with a record of 23-4.
With the impressive non-conference slate as its backdrop, Baylor prepares to begin Big 12 play with a two-game series against the University of Texas on Saturday and Sunday.
“I think it is a refreshing part of the season to start Big 12 play,” junior right fielder Kaitlyn Thumann said. “It’s not just tournament after tournament anymore, you’re playing for something bigger now. Everything matters of course, but the Big 12 is a whole different level.”
The Bears have won 11 straight games, including all 10 games played so far this month. The Bears have outscored teams 48-10 in that stretch. In fact, Baylor has given up more than one run in a game once since Feb. 28, while shutting out opponents four times.
“Our pre-conference schedule has prepared us for a strong Big 12, which was the idea,” softball coach Glenn Moore said. “I think Texas is 18-15, but if you look at the numbers, they’re a very good team.”
Thumann is currently hitting .471 on the season, a mark that ranks her 16th in the nation and leads the Big 12. The mark is tied for fourth among players with at least 80 at-bats this season.
Before losing it last week, Thumann accumulated a 44-game on-base streak dating back to last season. She is also second on the team in slugging percentage at .644 thanks to 56 total bases.
Baylor blanked Texas State 2-0 on Tuesday night in Waco behind a one-hitter from senior ace Whitney Canion. The left-hander pitched five innings and struck out 10 of the 19 batters she faced. She had a perfect game going until the fourth and a no-hitter until a single in the fifth.
Texas sits with a record of 18-15 and 4-9 in neutral-site games. Surprisingly, the Longhorns are a perfect 5-0 on the road. Texas lost two of its last three against Houston and Iowa.
Freshman utility player Lindsey Stephens has broken onto the scene in Austin. In 107 at-bats, she has hit 10 homers and sits with a batting average of .421 and a slugging percentage of .841.
The Longhorns as a team hit .344, better than Baylor’s average of .328 this season. The difference has been in the pitching matchups, where Baylor is holding opponents to a batting average of .189 compared to .214 for Texas. The Longhorns pitching staff has a combined ERA of 2.81 to Baylor’s 1.34.
Moore said that he plans to start Canion in the first game against Texas, and see how she performs. From there, he says it’s wide open whether he will start Canion or Stearns on Sunday.
This is only Baylor’s third non-tournament game of the season at home. The Bears are 2-0 in those games.
“You always want to play at home, especially in a stadium like Getterman in front of your fans,” Moore said. “I think our conference is set up where we’ll play some great competition in front of our home fans.”
The Bears have no secret of their goal heading into conference play.
“We want to win the Big 12,” Thumann said. “We want to put it out there that we’re the best in the Big 12 this year, and it starts this weekend.”
Baylor will open conference play with games at 11 a.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday against Texas at Getterman Stadium in Waco.