Softball squares off Oklahoma with Big 12 title hopes on the line

Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer

The race for softball supremacy is about to get a bit clearer this weekend. No. 13 Baylor (8-1 in Big 12 play) will travel to Norman, Okla., to battle defending Women’s College World Series champion and No. 8 Oklahoma (9-0 in the Big 12.)

The Lady Bears have won six consecutive series against conference opponents dating back to last season. Their last loss was a sweep at the bats of the Sooners at Getterman Stadium.

Freshman infielder Shelby McGlaun knows how big the series is with the Sooners as both teams make their moves closer to a Big 12 title.

“We’re really excited for the competition, and we’ve prepared all week for that,” McGlaun said. “We know it’s going to be a big series, especially Big 12 standings wise. Excited to see how we stack up against them.”

Both teams will enter the season red hot as the Sooners have won 16 consecutive games dating back to a 3-1 loss to Cal Poly on March 18. However, due to a rained out doubleheader on Tuesday against Houston, Baylor has not played since a 1-0 loss to Texas State on April 12.

With the nine-day layoff, Baylor has had some time to rest up and get healthy heading into the series. The Lady Bears have not let the time go to waste as many of them have gone into the practice facility to continue to work and improve as a team, something that head coach Glenn Moore admires about this group.

“I saw several of the girls leaving the field yesterday, one at 8 in the morning from the batting cages,” Moore said. “It lets you know that you have a team that is very focused and ready to compete. That’s all you can ask of them.”

Both teams have good offenses as the Lady Bears hit .337 as a team and the Sooners .324. The Sooners are led by freshman utility player Nicole Mendes’ .409 batting average and followed closely by sophomore infielder Caleigh Cliffton at .397. The Sooners have home run capability, hitting 34 on the year, led by junior outfielder Nicole Pendley’s team-leading 10 and sophomore infielder Sydney Romero’s seven.

The Lady Bears are led by senior infielder Lindsey Cargill, who leads the Big 12 in hitting at .480 and is riding a program record 20-game hitting streak. Sophomore outfielder Kyla Walker is right behind her at .400 and McGlaun and junior infielder Shelby Friudenberg provide the power with eight and six home runs respectively.

As good as the offenses have been for both teams, the strength and the determining factor will presumably be the pitching.

For Baylor, it will be senior Kelsee Selman leading the way with an 18-4 record and a 1.31 earned run average. Sophomore pitcher Gia Rodoni has also been great for Baylor this season, posting an 11-1 record and a 1.81 ERA, while McGlaun is 6-2 with a 1.92 ERA.

Selman credits her success on the mound to the work of her teammates behind her in the field.

“I have a lot of confidence because of how well the team is doing and how well they’ve played behind me and behind Gia [Rodoni],” Selman said. “They’ve hit the ball really well. Practice has been great. On our off days, people are out here working. Just knowing how much they’re working gives me more confidence.”

Moore is confident that if Selman continues to work as she has done all year, she’ll continue to give the team a chance to win.

“Kelsee [Selman] is throwing as well anyone that we can put up against Oklahoma, and that’s saying a lot because we’ve had some good arms here,” Moore said. “If she continues to do her job here, we’ll have a chance to win.”

Oklahoma, unlike years past, has three solid arms that will see time in the circle this weekend. Junior Paige Parker is 15-5 with a 1.76 ERA and 159 strikeouts to just 20 walks. Junior Paige Lowary and freshman Mariah Lopez have been equally as good, posting 10-1 and 13-1 records in the circle.

Facing good pitching is nothing new for Baylor as it saw top 20 pitching in Tucson, Ariz., to start the year and over spring break in Fullerton, Calif.

As these two power schools collide this weekend, Moore likes his team’s chances.

“I think the pressure is on Oklahoma. They’re the defending national champions, and their expectations are higher,” Moore said. “They’re ranked higher than us, their RPI is a little higher — in the public’s eye, they’re supposed to be the better team, and we’re playing at their park. We don’t need to make this bigger than it is, we just need to play ball the way we’ve been playing.”

Game one of the series begins at 6:30 p.m. tonight and will be aired on Fox Sports Southwest. Game two will be 2 p.m. Saturday and game three at noon Sunday. Games two and three will air on ESPN2.