By Shehan Jeyarajah
OKLAHOMA CITY – It sure looked bleak for Baylor softball. The Bears only had one hit through the first four innings, and were held scoreless through five. In the top of the sixth, we were all expecting Baylor to give up their eighth unanswered run and lose by mercy rule.
But suddenly in the sixth, the comeback was on. First sophomore left fielder Linsey Hays knocked in an RBI single. Then Women’s College World Series star junior shortstop Jordan Strickland knocked in an RBI single of her own.
The runs started piling up in the sixth and seventh, eventually cutting the lead to 7-5 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, and little-used designated player Robin Landrith coming to the plate with runners on first and second.
With a 2-2 count, Landrith blasted a shot off the left field wall to bring home Strickland and sophomore third baseman Sarah Smith and tie the game at 7-7. After sophomore right-hander Heather Stearns, the third pitcher Baylor coach Glenn Moore used that day, blanked the Kentucky side, Baylor had a chance to win.
Junior right fielder Kaitlyn Thumann hit .389 going into the WCWS, but was hitless in her third World Series game. She picked a good time to bust out of her slump, and lifted a double into center field to bring up second baseman Ari Hawkins. The freshman laid down a bunt that Kentucky catcher Griffin Joiner rocketed past the first baseman for an error that allowed Thumann to bring home the winning run.
When the dust settled, Baylor had pulled off the most improbable comeback in program history to upend Kentucky and its superstar pitcher Kelsey Nunley on the way to an 8-7 victory to keep their season alive in the Women’s College World Series on Saturday afternoon.
The game could have spelled a bitter end for the seniors on the roster, including left-handed ace Whitney Canion. The First Team All-American struggled mightily as the starter on Saturday, giving up three runs in only 1.2 innings. Fellow senior Liz Paul allowed four runs of her own in four innings, two earned, to push Baylor into the hole.
“Our seniors took us in a meeting on the field and told us it wouldn’t be their last game,” Hawkins said afterwards. “They put the scare in us.”
Baylor will have another shot at the No. 5-seed Florida Gators in the next round. The Gators embarrassed the Bears in their opener, losing 11-0 in a five-inning walk-off performance. Coming out of the loser’s bracket, Baylor will have to win two straight games against the undefeated Gators to move on and play the winner from the other bracket in the final series.
Baylor reached the semifinal round of the NCAA Tournament in 2011 as well. They finished that season ranked No. 4 in the nation.
Baylor will play Florida at 12 p.m. on Sunday live from the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. If they force a deciding game, it will take place at 6 p.m. on Sunday in Oklahoma City.