Softball beats Kansas with walk-off home run

By Shehan Jeyarajah
Sports Writer

Sophomore designated player Linsey Hays really wanted a hit. She came up to bat in a tie game in the bottom of the seventh inning with an out on the board and extra innings threatening. She had Baylor’s only other RBI, a double down the left field line in the second inning to score sophomore third baseman Sarah Smith, and her demeanor told us she wanted another.

Hays fell down in the count quickly after swinging just a little too hard at two strikes, but took two balls to move the count to two balls and two strikes. Hays then hit three straight foul balls, took a ball, hit another foul ball; in the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Hays made contact, and knew it was over.

“She had me a little bit off balance for most of the at-bat, but I knew that she would give me a changeup at some point because she did in all of my other at-bats,” Hays said. “I knew it was gone as soon as I hit it.”

The walk-off home run spoiled a strong showing from Kansas pitcher Kelsey Kessler and propelled No. 14 Baylor softball (35-12, 8-4) to a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Jayhawks (29-18, 3-8) in Waco on Saturday afternoon.

In the top of the fifth, it looked as though the game might be getting away from the Bears. Senior reliever Liz Paul struggled in her second inning of work, hitting center fielder Taylor McElhaney with a pitch and allowing three straight singles to second baseman Ashley Newman, right fielder Lily Behrmann and shortstop Chaley Brickey for Kansas’s first run of the series.

Caught in the jam, Baylor coach Glenn Moore looked to senior ace Whitney Canion to come out of the bullpen and deliver. With no outs and the bases loaded, Canion calmly struck out three straight Kansas batters to end the inning.

“I’m not really a relief pitcher,” Canion said. “I love these pressure situations. My key today was coming out and getting ahead in the count.”

Canion pitched into a jam of her own in the top of the seventh. After two walks and an uncharacteristic error from freshman second baseman Ari Hawkins, the bases were loaded with one out. Canion once again calmly struck out two straight to retire the side.

Five times on the night did Canion face a batter with the bases loaded. Five times did she strike out said batter.

Baylor’s other run came in the second. With two outs, sophomore Sarah Smith hit a single to left field. In the next at-bat, Hays, the hero of the game, smashed a double down the left field line to drive home Smith and score the first run of the game.

Smith also hit a bomb to left-center in the fourth that would have been out of the park in almost every softball stadium in America; instead, McElhaney made a highlight reel play to steal one off the wall.

Kansas rattled starting pitcher Stearns over the first three innings, getting two on base both times. With her struggles, Moore decided to instead go with Paul, who struck out two in her one full inning, but allowed three hits in her second. Canion was the third pitcher to make an appearance for Baylor, and earned the win after throwing three hitless innings.

Kessler earned the loss for her 6.1 inning complete game. She allowed two earned runs, both off the bat of Hays.

Baylor softball will look to sweep the weekend series against Kansas at 12 p.m. on Sunday at Getterman Stadium.