By Cody Soto
It’s been an unusually warm week in January, and No. 10 Baylor softball has returned to Getterman Stadium for practice in preparation for its season opener next Friday. Amongst a few other things, something will be different this season for head coach Glenn Moore and his team.
After six years of suiting up in a Baylor uniform, former pitcher Whitney Canion, now known as Whitney Reichenstein, will not be on the field this season.
“She’s been on the roster for six years, but two of those years she was injured, so we’ve had to figure out how to win, and we’ve been able to do that without her,” Moore said. “Having said that, we’re going to miss her. She’s one of the greatest pitchers that I’ll ever coach for sure and one of the top pitchers in the country.”
During an illustrious career, the Aledo native became the greatest pitcher in Baylor softball history, led a talented team to last year’s Women’s College World Series and helped push the program to a finish in the national semifinals before dropping its two losses to the eventual national champion Florida.
Reichenstein ended her college career with a 2.27 earned run average in the World Series and had 306 strikeouts in her senior season, finishing fifth overall on the national level. She led the Big 12 with a 1.63 ERA and guided the Bears to a second-place finish behind the Oklahoma Sooners.
“Whitney left a legacy here and set the standard,” senior shortstop Jordan Strickland said. “It’s a great threshold for us to follow and to strive towards what she’s already left. There’s definitely more room to build and grow, so I think we have a great starting point from here.”
Now it’s time for someone else to pick up the pitching glove and start for Baylor this season. All eyes will look to Moore’s bullpen with junior pitcher Heather Stearns on deck. The right-handed pitcher made a splash in the World Series as she picked up two wins under her belt en route to a 49-16 record in 2014.
“It’s great for Heather to play at the biggest stage and perform so well,” senior outfielder Kaitlyn Thumann said. “It just shows how clutch she is and how talented she is. She was facing the best hitters in the country, and she performed awesome. It shows a lot about our team and what we have in the dugout.”
Is Moore worried? No. Even though he lost the left-handed cannon, he has five pitchers in the lineup that are eager to make an appearance at Getterman Stadium. Stearns is the obvious clear-cut pick as the starter, but the bullpen will look to show depth along with the rest of the young team during its non-conference slate.
“We have a lot of depth in the bullpen this year,” Moore said. We’ve got a lot of arms and a lot of different looks. Some will get some good playing time because we play five games in one weekend tournament. It’s important that they take advantage of that.”
Moore will be able to help transition Stearns and the new talent into the Baylor program as the Lady Bears host more home games this season. While maturity is important for a young team, coming together for a WCWS berth is a season-long experience.
“I don’t need them to grow up too quick, but we certainly need that bench and depth that we’ll have this team,” Moore said.
While starting 21 games last season, the Plano native posted a 15-4 record and a 2.06 ERA during her sophomore season. Stearns earned Big 12 Player of the Week honors after the Bears’ wins over Mississippi State and UTSA.
She also helped save Baylor’s World Series chances as she pitched the final 2.1 innings in the 8-7 thriller over Kentucky to put the Bears in the national semifinals. She helped lead the comeback after the Bears trailed 7-0 to come back and win in extra innings. With this resume already under her belt, it’s time for her to break out and take hold of the starting position.
“Heather is very deserving of,” Moore said. “She’s been patiently waiting her turn behind the big lefty in Whitney Canion. Whitney was very valuable for us and gave us everything she had, but we’ve got a good one waiting her turn, and I’m excited for the fans to see Heather perform.”
As the Baylor softball season inches closer to its full return, the team will look to prove itself after losing one of the most memorable athletes to pitch for the Bears.
“Whitney gave us everything she had to give, but now it’s time to move into a new era,” Moore said. “I’m excited about where she left this program, and I’m sure she is too. We’ll continue to work hard and get better in the bullpen, and I’m excited to show people that we weren’t just a one-horse team.”
Like several other athletes in the Baylor athletic program, Moore believes Stearns’ time to shine is long overdue.
“This kid is very capable. Bryce Petty and Nick Florence waited their turn patiently, and so has Heather, so I’m looking forward to her day in the sunshine,” Moore said.
Baylor opens the 2015 spring season hosting the Fairfield Inn & Suites North Getterman Classic next weekend. First pitch is set for 3 p.m. against Wichita State on Feb. 6.