By Cody Soto
With a whirlwind of several sports happening at the same time, another joins the mix with the debut of a new year at Getterman Stadium. No. 10 Baylor softball kicks off its 2015 season today at 3 p.m. against Wichita State with a mix of old and new players on the roster.
Head coach Glenn Moore looks to shake off doubt of his team after losing All-American pitcher Whitney Reichenstein, formerly Whitney Canion. The senior pitcher was the leader for last year’s team in the diamond, pitching her way into Baylor school history in her six years on the roster. But now, it’s time for the Bears to prove they’re not a one-woman show.
Baylor has posted unprecedented success with Moore at the helm in 14 years as head coach. He has led the Bears to three Women’s College World Series appearances, most recently in 2014.
“We’re a young team, but we had young experience in the World Series last year that was very successful. That’s going to be valuable to us this year,” Moore said.
After graduating major contributors at pitcher, first base and catcher, the Bears will have to prove they can maintain the same level of success as during the Canion era. The 2015 roster is primarily underclassmen, but for Moore and his staff, the key is utilizing the senior leadership on this young team.
“We’re going to be one to compete with this season,” junior pitcher Heather Stearns said. “We have some great young girls coming in that are going to immediately have a huge impact, and the senior leadership has been awesome. We’re returning eight or nine girls that played in the World Series, so that’ll help the younger girls come along.”
Senior outfielder Kaitlyn Thumann and senior shortstop Jordan Strickland will be crucial parts of the puzzle. Thumann led the team last season in hitting (.373) while setting a single-season record of 60 runs, including the winning run against Kentucky in the World Series on May 31.
Although Thumann said it’s a significant memory, she’s not going to let the strong finish get in the way of focusing on this season.
“Right now, we’re just focusing on that first game,” she said. “You have to get off that high and start focusing on this season. It’s definitely a different year with different girls. The experience, will help propel our team with a lot of our starters coming back, but we’re focusing on this year and channeling our energy we all had into this season and program.”
Strickland joins Thumann in terms of experience, leadership and grit. The shortstop from Princeton led the Bears with 14 home runs in 2014 and was named to the WCWS All-Tournament Team for her strong performance. Strickland is also the all-time leader in postseason wins heading into her fourth year on the roster. While being a senior has it perks, it brings a new level of responsibility.
“It does put a little bit of pressure, but it’s a good pressure,” Strickland said. “My coach has confidence in me, and I know that I have free reins to just do what I do.”
Other standouts returning to plate this season are junior outfielder Linsey Hays and the Bears’ new primary pitcher, Heather Stearns. Hays has experienced several instances of bad luck while on the team, including earning a medical hardship waiver her freshman year due to a thyroid issue and a recurring back problem last season.
Stearns replaces Canion on the pitching mound with key experience in the World Series, including two wins. The Plano right-hander posted a 15-4 record last season, including wins over Florida State and Kentucky.
“I’m a big fan of Heather; she’s a really good pitcher,” Moore said. “She’s very mature in her understanding of the game and she’s a great competitor. She’s really got it together out there, not too high or too low, and has the mentality you really want out of a pitcher.”
As the Bears take the field this afternoon, expect a lot of new faces. The softball team will feature 10 players making their debut in a Baylor uniform. Six of the players are from Central Texas and three are teammates from Crawford.
After finishing in the top four in the WCWS, Baylor has been picked to finish second in the conference. However, the goal is the same.
“We are going to worry about Baylor,” Strickland said. “We’re really shooting for that Big 12 championship, and I think that it’s a possible goal. We just need to keep building from where we are, use the momentum in our favor, and roll with it.”
The Bears host the 2015 Fairfield Inn & Suites North Getterman Classic this weekend at Getterman Stadium.