Strikeout machine Canion returns healthy

File Photo
No. 11 redshirt sophomore Whitney Canion hurls a pitch toward the plate in a 2009 game. Canion, whose stress reactor injury sidelined her in 2010, returns to the circle this season.

By Matt Larsen
Sports Writer

She’s back.

As a freshman Whitney Canion set Baylor single-season records for most innings pitched (291.1), games started (46), complete games (37) and strikeouts (415).

The left-handed ace returns for a 2011 campaign after sitting most of 2010 with a forearm injury, bringing with her more than a healthy throwing arm.

“When you have a kid like Whitney Canion who can get the job done on the field and is a leader, then you have something special. I think our leadership is going to be there this year and I’m not sure we had that last year,” head coach Glenn Moore said.

Canion pitched in 11 games last season (recording 79 strikeouts) before deciding a forearm surgery was needed for the lingering injury.

Much to the pleasure of her coach and teammates, she obtained a medical redshirt last season, enabling her to enter 2011 as a sophomore.

The Aledo native racked up the third most strikeouts in the nation as a freshman thanks to her fastball, and her team expects her go-to pitch to be as effective as ever.

“Freshman year, as powerful as she was against everybody, now she is two years older and she is a veteran, even though she is just a redshirt sophomore,” senior Jordan Vannatta said. “Her speed came back real quick, she is moving the ball. She is one of the best in the country, you got to be excited.”

While Baylor softball welcomes back a veteran, it also welcomes a promising newcomer.

Sugar Land freshman Liz Paul joins Canion on the mound after being named a 2010 first-team All-American by the Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association during her last year at Clements high school.

The right-hander notched a 31-6 record, 388 strikeouts and a 0.77 ERA in 2010.

Moore expects her to see some time on the mound right away keeping pitch counts down for Canion.

The ace’s return may be the biggest news for Baylor’s pitching staff.

However, Moore and company believe the now-fellow sophomore who carried the weight of pitching responsibility as a freshman last year has the potential to offer just as little relief to opposing batters.

“I told [Courtney Repka] the other day that when she is listed as the starting pitcher I think teams are going to be kind of excited because they know Whitney is on our staff. She is going to have to squelch that,” the 11-year coach said. “She is going to have to make them think, I don’t want to see either one of those. It’s up to her to do, and it will happen when she starts sending hitters back to the dugout. I think she will, but it has yet to be determined.”

Repka put in her time on the mound last year.

The right-hander started 42 of her team’s 53 games last year, posting a 20-19 record and a 2.91 ERA.

“She pitched enough last year to be a junior right now,” Moore said.

If Repka becomes the threat her coach believes she will, a Baylor softball squad once known for speed and hitting could find its identity in the arms of its pitching staff.

“It could [take on a pitching identity] because you look at all your dominant teams in the country, they have one really dominant pitcher and then they have one who can back her up and do pretty well,” Vannatta said. “Courtney Repka has increased her speed, her movement. So if we get her going along with Whitney, one, two and three pitchers could all be really dominant.”