Season starts against ranked team in Illinois
By Krista Pirtle
With the ice around Waco thawing and temperatures steadily rising, it’s time to go to your local convenient store, grab some sunflower seeds and a Dr Pepper, and head to Getterman Stadium. Softball season is officially under way.
This weekend the Bears host the Getterman Classic, competing against No. 19 preseason ranked Illinois, McNeese State and UTSA. Baylor’s first game of the year is against the Fighting Illini at 3 p.m. Friday ,followed by McNeese State at 5:30.
“Just seeing the team chemistry this team has is awesome; we gel as a full team,” pitcher Whitney Canion said. “We don’t have halves, we don’t have cliques, and I think this team is just ready to get out on the field and see what we can do. Our offense is better; we have a full pitching staff. Our depth is bigger than it’s ever been.”
The Lady Bears softball team consists of 13 returning athletes in addition to five freshmen.
“From what I’ve seen, and time will tell, this is the strongest team I’ve seen since 2005,” head coach Glenn Moore said. “We’re very fast in the outfield. We’re pretty solid on the infield. We have more leadership and experience on the infield than we’ve had in a while. We’ve got a good battery, solid catching and pitching, so we’re strong.”
The Lady Bears graduated two of their top three hitters in Nicole and Tiffany Wesley, hitting .384 and .360 respectively.
“We were getting on base and had a pretty high team batting average, but we couldn’t score those runs,” Coach Glenn Moore said. “Our left on base average was much more than in previous years. Hopefully we’ve made some of those connections and will score those runs this year.”
Leading the team in batting average from last year is junior Kayce Walker at.373, followed by senior Jordan Vannatta with .290.
“Well, I’m just trying to get better and better every year,” Walker said. “My freshman year I hit over .400 and then last year I was under .400, so now I’m just trying to get higher than .400. And, I don’t know, it would be awesome to hit .500 batting average.
To try and decrease Lady Bears left on base, Baylor snagged the No. 13 recruit, according to ESPN Rise, Shelbi Redfearn from Stillwater, Okla.
This past summer on her club team, Tulsa Elite Gold, Redfearn hit .443 with 13 homers, 57 RBI and 21 stolen bases.
In the field, Baylor has every reason to be confident, especially as Canion is able to take her intimidating place in the circle.
Canion was the 2009 Big 12 Freshman and Pitcher of the Year and went 5-3 with a 1.58 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 48.2 innings for the 2010 season.
In mid-March of 2010, Canion remained in the dugout because of an increasing stress reaction in her left forearm.
Then freshmen Courtney Repka and Alicia Vasquez tried to fill the huge void in the middle of the infield, compiling ERAs of 2.91 and 5.62.
Now, with last season’s experience and the maturity that comes with a season under their belts, both Repka and Vasquez look to enforce more power and demand more respect in the circle.
Freshman Liz Paul also adds to the pitching rotation after recording a 0.77 ERA with 388 strikeouts her senior year.
The Lady Bears were ranked in the preseason polls at No. 6 in the Big 12, with Oklahoma grabbing the top spot, followed by Missouri and Texas.
“It would have been very unrealistic for the league to vote us in the top three or four not knowing how Canion was going to come back,” Coach Moore said. “So I totally understand it. Maybe it will light our fire, but our fire’s lit anyway. So we’ll see where we end up, and that’s what’s important.”
Baylor knows it has the potential to finish higher in the Big 12 than expected and is wiling to work to overcome the standard set for them.
“As far as rankings go, it’s funny because we know that’s really not where we stand with her on the mound,” Vannatta said. “With the progress our pitchers have made throughout the fall, and it’s going to be fun to see where we end up, even after this weekend.”