By Cody Soto
Over the next past weeks, No. 7 Baylor softball has debuted its relatively young bullpen in nine games, including games at Getterman Stadium and in the NSU Demon Invitational in Natchitoches, La., showing off a plethora of both experienced pitchers and newcomers on the pitching mound.
While junior pitcher Heather Stearns is the clear starter for the Lady Bears to replace All-American pitcher Whitney Canion, head coach Glenn Moore is testing out the waters of his lineup behind her during non-conference play.
Each pitcher received ample game time during each matchup to brush off some nervousness and rust. Of all of the pitchers, Stearns is the only upperclassman in the bunch.
However, Moore expressed confidence that his pitchers will grow in their development and step up in each game when he called upon.“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. I think this is the strongest team one through 20. This may not be the strongest one through nine but we certainly have the best backups that we’ve ever had. We’re in a good position to get a lot better.”
Last weekend, Stearns pitched 13 strikeouts in the team’s road contest against Northwestern State on Saturday. She’s on an impressive 23-scoreless-innings streak heading into today’s matchup against No. 2 Oregon, giving her a Big 12 Pitcher of the Week honor last Monday.
“I’m a big fan of Heather. I think 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 as level-headed as any pitcher I can remember in recent years.”
On Feb. 8, Stearns also struck out 11 batters in six innings and only walked one Stephen F. Austin player while on the mound. It was the eighth time in her career to whiff 10 or more hitters heading into Thursday’s matchup at 4-0.
“I really mixed up my pitches well and kept them guessing,” Stearns said after the 3-0 win. “My offspeed was working really well. That’s really what set the tone. I’m proud of the way we came together and finished the weekend.”
Sophomore pitcher Brooke Seneshen stepped in during the Bears’ 9-2 win over Northwestern State on Sunday, but she struggled in the bottom of the sixth inning when she allowed two runs that snapped the team’s 38-inning opponent scoreless streak.
Seneshen is a transfer student-athlete from Galveston Community College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and is likely to be Stearns’ primary backup during the rest of the season.
“I think we need to give her some time because she hasn’t faced these kind of hitters,” Moore said. “She’s got a very good drop ball and throws extremely hard. She’s a kid that will be good. This will not be her best year, so we’re relying on her to grow.”
True freshman Kendall Potts has led the Bears on two occasions so far this season, and her highlight performance came in a 3-0 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the semifinal game of the Getterman Classic on Feb. 7.
Potts had six strikeouts and only allowed three hits in seven innings en route to her first collegiate win. She also pitched in four innings to pick up her second victory and first on the road.
“Kendall Potts has certainly come along more than we had expected this early in the year,” Moore said. “We have more confidence in her than we thought we’d have this early. We thought we would have it eventually, so we feel like we have things to throw at our opponents so we can counter their attack.”
Redshirt freshman and Waco native Sarah Beth Toben hasn’t had much time on the pitching mound but is being used in other positions as lineups keep switching. Toben pitched on Saturday against Jackson State for two innings, allowing one hit and striking out a batter for a 2-0 record with her on the mound. Toben also saw time against TAMCC before she was pulled after two innings.
“After you sit the bench for so long, it’s a lot different than being out on the field,” Toben said. “I was a bit nervous, but I felt really good once I was out there. It took a while, but once I got a few players at bat, I felt a lot better.”
As Moore continues to see how his team competes during non-conference play, he will be able to see how the Bears will come together during tough games. The lineup isn’t set in stone yet, and there’s a lot of softball to be played.
“Heather has certainly established herself as our number one pitcher, but we can go in a lot of directions after that,” Moore said. “We can mix up players depending upon what team we are seeing and how we want to counter them.”
Baylor softball hosts No. 2 Oregon tonight to kick off the Baylor Invitational at Getterman Stadium. First pitch is slated for 6:30 p.m. The Bears then face North Texas, No. 25 Tulsa, Abilene Christian and the Ducks throughout the weekend.