By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
Baylor softball has spent much of its spring season playing away from home. The Lady Bears have played just five of their first 26 games at Getterman Stadium, making it difficult to catch a glimpse of them this season.
As Baylor opens conference play against second-ranked and two-time defending national champion Oklahoma this weekend, there won’t be an empty seat in the stadium.
Senior outfielder Jessie Scroggins, who leads the team with a .545 average, said that playing the Sooners is always one of the most exciting matchups of the season and getting to do it at home, is an added bonus.
“It is always exciting to play Oklahoma. They’re one of the best teams in the country and it’s always nice to see how we compete against them,” Scroggins said. “We haven’t been here for awhile and we do have a sellout crowd, so it’s going to be exciting to play in front of them.”
When the two teams met in Norman, Okla. last season, the Lady Bears took game two and nearly won game one, but lost a late inning lead before falling in extra innings. The two teams tangled for a fourth time in their opening round game in the Women’s College World Series, a 6-3 win for the Sooners as they won their second straight National Championship.
But despite the Sooner’s three wins last year, Scroggins and the Lady Bears are confident as ever, partially because of the difficult non-conference schedule and the quality pitchers they’ve already seen this season.
“It does give us confidence. But it is a new team, new year and it all matters what we do this weekend, so we’re just going to compete like we know how and hopefully it ends up our way,” Scroggins said. “It [the non-conference schedule] definitely prepares us well. We faced [Florida’s] Kelly Barnhill in California and [Oklahoma’s] Paige Parker kind of has that same pitching style so I think that helps us out a lot.”
The Lady Bears are also confident because of their offensive success this season.
Baylor head coach Glenn Moore said this might be the best offensive team he has had in his 18 years at Baylor.
“I have one of the best offenses I’ve had at Baylor since I’ve been here, so I have a lot of confidence in the ability to make things happen offensively, and to make them make plays. That’s why you play the game,” Moore said.
That offense is led by Scroggins, who leads the team with 48 hits and nine extra base hits. Junior outfielder Kyla Walker, who has recently returned to the lineup after suffering an ankle injury and missing 11 games, is hitting .426. Senior catcher Carlee Wallace, sophomore second baseman Nicky Dawson, senior first baseman Shelby Friudenberg and sophomore Goose McGlaun are all hitting above .300 while sophomore shortstop Taylor Ellis is just below at .299.
As a team, Baylor is hitting .348, and averages just under six runs per game with 17 home runs, led by McGlaun’s eight. Friudenberg is second on the team with three, has 43 in her career and is just one shy of tying Chelsi Lake for the program record.
“I’m just really excited. I’m here to get the wins and do what we can for Baylor softball and make it to the World Series, it’s cool for me, but we’re doing it all for one reason,” Friudenberg said.
But that offense will be put to the test against Oklahoma’s pitching combination of seniors Paige Parker and Paige Lowary and sophomore Mariah Lopez. Parker is 15-1 with a 0.34 earned run average with three complete games and two shutouts, while holding opposing hitters to a .114 batting average. Lowary is 3-1 with a 0.73 ERA and three saves while Lopez is 8-0 with a 1.35 ERA. The Sooners’ pitching staff has only allowed 27 runs in its first 30 games and has posted 16 shutouts.
As dominant as the Oklahoma pitching staff is, Moore said he is impressed with his as well. It begins with junior Gia Rodoni, who picked up Baylor’s lone win against the Sooners last season.
Rodoni is 12-4 with a 1.78 ERA with nine complete games and has racked up 123 strikeouts.
“I think Gia can go toe to toe with anybody in the country,” Moore said. “I said earlier that I didn’t think she was going to be a strikeout pitcher and she started putting up double digit strikeouts every game, threw a no-hitter, nearly had a perfect game the other day. She’s very capable of beating anybody in the country.”
Junior Regan Green, who will get the start in game two, is 5-1 with a 2.06 ERA and has a pair of complete games.
“I think Regan is on the verge of being able to beat top 20 teams. Just fine-tuning a few things. She gives us some great innings then she’ll lose focus a little bit, but that’s growth,” Moore said. “I’ve challenged her a little bit and now it’s time to push through and be able to compete with a top 20 lineup. To be able to compete with a lineup like Oklahoma, you have to be able to have a good defense and we do have a good defense.”
Oklahoma’s offense will certainly test the Baylor pitching staff. The Sooners hit .341 as a team, but have relied substantially more on the home run ball (41) than Baylor has. Nobody is better with the big swing for the Sooners than freshman utility player Jocelyn Alo, who is hitting .488 with 16 home runs and 40 RBIs this season.
Moore said Alo presents a stiff challenge for his pitching staff that they will have to figure out how to attack this weekend.
“It says something about a team like Oklahoma, when they have a freshman walk in there and she’s in the number three hole,” Moore said. “It’s pretty amazing and a little bit scary. She’s got 16 home runs and certainly someone we have to figure out how to pitch to.”
Junior infielder Sydney Romero is in a distant second with eight gopher balls, but is hitting .505 on the season with 46 hits and nine doubles. Senior outfielder Nicole Pendley has hit seven and junior infielder Caleigh Cliffton six for Oklahoma.
Oklahoma enters 28-2 on the season, its second best start in program history. The Sooners have won 19 straight games since a Feb. 24 loss to No. 13 Arizona and have won 33 consecutive true road contests dating back to a March 18, 2016 loss to Cal-State Fullerton, which includes a three game sweep of Baylor at Getterman Stadium April 8-10 two seasons ago.
No. 15 Baylor (20-6) and No. 2 Oklahoma (28-2) will open with a 6:30 p.m. first pitch Thursday and Friday and a 6 p.m. start Saturday at Getterman Stadium. The first two games will air on Fox Sports Southwest while game three will air on ESPN.