Baylor softball heads west for season opening tournament

IN POSITION Baylor junior INF Caitlin Charlton prepares for the next pitch against McNeese State on Feb. 13, 2016, in Waco. The Lady Bears lost this game 3-1. Photo credit: Penelope Shirey

By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer

Fall ball is over. Four weeks of practice in the books. It’s time for Baylor softball to get under way.

The Lady Bears open their season with a trip to Tucson, Ariz., to participate in the 2017 Hillenbrand Invitational. The three-day tournament, hosted by the University of Arizona, will feature Fordham University, Cal-State University-Northridge, Northwestern University, University of Tulsa, Baylor, and the host Arizona Wildcats.

For senior utility player Lindsey Cargill, who plays both infield and outfield and is a career .334 hitter at the plate, it’s her final season opener, and the excitement and confidence never changes.

“We’re really excited. We’re very confident, and it’s good that we’re playing these top teams because we need to see that before the Big 12 conference,” Cargill said. “We’ve had a great fall, so I think we’re ready to play. I’m excited to see what this team has to offer.”

Baylor was not originally supposed to be in the tournament. After withdrawing from a tournament in San Juan, Puerto Rico, due to health concerns surrounding the Zika virus, the Lady Bears jumped on the opportunity to play in a highly competitive opening tournament.

Baylor enters the season coming off an appearance in the NCAA Tournament a year ago after finishing 45-14 overall. The Lady Bears are ranked No. 21 in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Poll (NFCA). They will face off with some of the best teams in the country this weekend as Northwestern and Tulsa are both receiving votes to be ranked, and Baylor will conclude its tournament against No. 10 Arizona.

This opening season tournament is a change from the usual for Baylor, and head coach Glenn Moore believes that it will be greatly beneficial to his team in the long run this season.

“We typically start out here with a lower RPI tournament, and I’m excited to make a change there and see some great competition right away and see where we are,” Moore said. “It’s kind of what we need to do with our RPI situation last year that seemed to hurt us when we lost early. I think we need to see where we are early and see more of a sense of urgency, and this tournament will give us that.”

Up first for the Bears is Fordham. The Rams finished 39-21 a year ago and claimed the Atlantic 10 Championship. They advanced to the 2016 Eugene Regional where they lost to Oregon and Long Beach State. Oregon also eliminated Baylor last season.

Moore was impressed with what he saw from Fordham in the 2016 Eugene, Ore., regional and their success in the Atlantic 10 Conference, and he expects them to be a great challenge.

“They’re a well-coached team. They’ve got good power, and you can’t go to sleep on them if you happen to get out early on them,” Moore said. “I watched them continue to fight in the games that we watched. They get a bulk of the talent from up in that area. We know they are very confident themselves and can play some good ball.”

Not only will Baylor face good competition this weekend, it will be the first time that a new class of five freshmen will take their hacks against high caliber competition. Cargill believes this weekend will be big for them and big for building team chemistry.

“A successful weekend for us right now is to interact with each other, making sure we are comfortable with each other on and off the field,” Cargill said. “Getting these freshman acclimated to the season and just getting everybody ready to play.”

Moore echoes the sentiment and believes that the bench will play a key role for Baylor this season, and it begins this weekend.

“I’m going to play around with a lot of different lineups,” Moore said. “We’ve had four weeks and all fall to see who our starters are and the game is going to have to allow for our subs to get in early in this high caliber tournament.”

Moore is going to learn a lot about his team this weekend and is excited to see what his team can bring to the table this weekend.

“We know the field out there is very strong,” Moore said. “We are very excited to get out there and play someone else for a change.”

Baylor kicks off the season against Fordham at 5 p.m. tonight. It will play a doubleheader Friday against Cal-State-Northridge and Northwestern and will conclude Saturday with a doubleheader against Tulsa and Arizona.