Softball braces for toughest tournament yet

Photo credit: Penelope Shirey

By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer

Baylor softball is off to a fast start in 2017. The Lady Bears are 14-3 overall and entered this week’s NCAA softball rankings at No. 22 in the country. They have won eight straight and 11 of 12 since losing 4-0 to No. 5 Arizona.

Baylor has enjoyed playing at Getterman Stadium in front of its home crowd the last two weekends, while earning tournament titles in the Getterman Classic as well as the Baylor Invitational.

The offense is beginning to come around for the Lady Bears as they are averaging just over five runs a game during their eight-game winning streak. Junior infielder Shelby Friudenberg was just named Big 12 player of the week after belting three home runs during Baylor’s five wins in the Baylor Invitational. The Lady Bears are hitting .337 as a team and are led by sophomore outfielder Kyla Walker, who has 26 hits in 52 at bats and has only struck out once this season. Senior infielder Lindsey Cargill is not far behind, hitting .449 with 22 hits and has only gone down on strikes once.

Baylor head coach Glenn Moore has been impressed with what he has seen from his pitchers so far as well. The Lady Bears boast a 1.83 earned run average, led by senior Kelsee Selman and sophomore Gia Rodoni. Selman is 7-2 with a 1.31 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 48 innings. Rodoni is 4-0 with a 1.97 ERA and has 42 strikeouts in 39 innings of work.

Friudenberg expects the pitching staff to be just as effective this weekend as it has been al season.

“Our pitching staff has been doing really great,” Friudenberg said. “Kelsee [Selman]’s on her game right now. So, at this tournament, I don’t think we should be facing any problems with that. Gia [Rodoni]’s right there behind her, everyone’s kind of following up, and Goose can go in there and do her job when she needs to.”

Despite all of the success that the Lady Bears have found early on this season, they are about to enter its most difficult stretch of their season.

It begins when they travel to California to participate in the Judi Garman Classic, one of the most prestigious tournaments of the softball season. The tournament is hosted by Cal-State Fullerton and is named after Judi Garman, a former softball coach at Fullerton who lead the Lady Titans to a 1986 NCAA Championship.

The tournament boasts some of the top programs across the country. This year’s field consists of No. 3 Florida, No. 7 UCLA, No. 8 Washington, No. 14 Michigan, No. 20 Arizona State, Baylor, No. 23 California Berkeley, Northwestern, Iowa, Fresno State, Long Beach State, Indiana University and the University of South Carolina. However, Baylor will not play all other teams, the Lady Bears will match up with five.

Baylor head coach Glenn Moore said it’s a great opportunity for improvement as well as a homecoming for several of the Lady Bears.

“It’s a tournament we go to every year, and gives us a great check on where we are, how good we are, against World Series-caliber competition out there,” Moore said. “And it’s a great environment. Some of our girls get to go back home because it’s a recruiting bed for us out there. But most of all, we get to improve. We get to see the best, play against the best. We feel like we’re part of that, but this year we’re ranked a little bit lower than we have been the past two years, so it’s a big challenge and a great opportunity for us.”

First up for Baylor at noon Friday will be No. 20 Arizona State. The Sun Devils are 12-3 overall and boast explosive bats at the plate. As a team, they have hit 13 home runs, five players have at least two and sophomore outfielder Ulufa Leilua has four already. Arizona State’s pitching has been tough as well, posting a team ERA of .133.

Baylor will then duel No. 14 Michigan. The Lady Wolverines are 9-4-1 overall but three of those losses have come to teams ranked in the top 25, including Texas A&M, University of South Florida, and Florida. Michigan also has an explosive offensive attack led by senior outfielder Kelly Christner. Christner is currently hitting .600 at the plate with four home runs and 20 runs driven in. On the mound, the Wolverines deliver a 1-2 punch of senior Megan Betsa and junior Tera Blanco. Betsa has an ERA of 1.83 and Blanco is 6-1 on the year with five complete games.

On Saturday, Baylor will meet No. 8 Washington. The Huskies enter the tournament 11-2

overall with a wins over No. 2 Auburn and No. 9 Oklahoma on its resume. The Huskies score more than seven runs a game and have held their opponents to two or less runs seven times this season.

In the first half of a doubleheader on Sunday, the Lady Bears will meet the No. 7 UCLA Lady Bruins. As a team, UCLA hits .355 at the plate and have combined for 22 home runs. The lineup is extremely balanced and capable of driving runs at any time as even of its nine starters have driven in at least 10 runs this season.

In Baylor’s final matchup in the Judi Garman Classic, the Lady Bears will meet the host school Cal-State Fullerton. The Lady Titans are 8-8 overall and are just 2-3 in home games. As a team, Fullerton hits .290 and is led by senior catcher Lexi Gonzalez. She leads the team in home runs with three, runs batted in with 13 and is second in batting average at .405.

Win or lose, Baylor is going to find out a lot about itself this weekend as it takes on some of the top teams in the country. One thing is for sure: the Lady Bears will be surely battle tested when conference play begins on March 24.

Friudenberg says the team is ready for this stiff challenge.

“It’s just going to really show where we are right now,” Friudenberg said. “Even if we don’t come out on top, it’s going to show us what we need to learn and all that kind of stuff. We’re hoping to come out on top, and we’re doing great right now. We’re on a win streak, so we’re ready to go.”

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