By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
Baylor’s opening weekend ended in Tucson with a loss on Feb. 11. The Lady Bears were determined not to end their season against the Wildcats in the same way.
Baylor battled back with three runs in the seventh inning off Arizona sophomore pitcher Taylor McQuillin capped off by the go-ahead three-run home run by freshman infielder Shelby McGlaun as No. 15 Baylor holds on to survive and upset No. 2 Arizona 6-5 to punch its ticket to the 2017 Women’s College World Series.
Baylor head coach Glenn Moore said the team’s mentality never changed when it fell behind and its toughness is what makes this team special.
“Couldn’t be more proud of this group of girls, the toughest team I’ve ever coached in over 20 years of coaching,” Moore said. “They never quit. They show up to play every time, and they were rewarded in a big way today against a great team. Great program, that many people thought could have won it all this year. So, very, very proud of them. It was a war. We took ourselves out of a couple situations, and we kept bouncing back, kept fighting. I can’t say anything better about them, they’re just warriors.”
The rally started when senior second Ari Hawkins ripped a double to right center field. Arizona, taking a strategy out of Baylor’s playbook, decided to intentionally walk junior first baseman Shelby Friudenberg, who had driven in Baylor’s three runs with a double and home run of her own, to deal with the freshman McGlaun.
McQuillin then fell behind 2-0 and was forced to throw a fastball to McGlaun that she sent over the wall in center for her 11th home run of the season, putting the Lady Bears back on top 6-5.
McGlaun said she need to not let the moment get too big for her so she was patient in looking for a pitch to hit.
“2-0, I was looking for a pitch I could hit, a pitch I could drive,” McGlaun said. “And I knew she would probably give it to me in that count. As soon as it came off the bat, I had a feeling. And then I saw the centerfielder ran out of room, and I got excited.”
Just 20 minutes earlier, this rally seemed the furthest thing from a possibility as the Lady Bears had committed two crucial errors that cost themselves a run and put Arizona back on top.
With the score tied 3-3 in the sixth inning, sophomore left fielder Kyla Walker ripped a single to right center field, sending freshman shortstop Taylor Ellis around third base towards home to give the Lady Bears a 4-3 lead.
However, Arizona went to appeal the call, claiming that Ellis had missed third base on her way home. The appeal was upheld, the run revoked and the Baylor threat officially over.
The Wildcats then carried this momentum into the bottom half of the sixth, scratching two runs across and chasing Baylor senior Kelsee Selman. Arizona got an RBI single from freshman second baseman Reyna Carranco to regain the lead.
Baylor sophomore Gia Rodoni came in to get out of the bases loaded jam, allowing a run on a walk but getting freshman first baseman Jessie Harper, who finished two for four with an RBI, to strikeout and end the threat.
Even after Baylor regained the lead and momentum following the McGlaun home run, Arizona refused to go down easily.
Rodoni walked the leadoff batter in the seventh but benefited from a perfect bounce on a wild pitch that came right back to junior catcher Sydney Christensen who gunned down the Wildcats’ base runner at second.
Rodoni continued to struggle with her command, going ahead in the count 0-2 before giving way to another walk and therefore forced Moore to turn the back over to Selman. Selman then retired the final two Arizona hitters to earn the save and clinch the victory for the Lady Bears.
Rodoni (18-3), who pitched 1 1/3 innings, allowed one hit and three walks got the win for Baylor. Selman collected her sixth save despite getting the start, tossing 5 2/3 innings over two separate occasions in the circle, allowing five runs on eight hits with five walks and three strikeouts.
For the first four innings, it appeared like Selman was heading to her second consecutive complete game victory in the circle.
Baylor got on the board in the first inning on an RBI double to center field by Friudenberg that scored Walker, who singled with one out in the inning.
Arizona answered back in the first on an RBI double to center from senior shortstop Mo Mercado but Mercado made a mistake on the base path, wandering too far from third on a wild pitch and getting tagged out at home plate in a run down.
Friudenberg stayed hot at the plate, putting Baylor up 3-1 in the third inning on a two-run blast just inside the foul pole in left field.
Fridudenberg said she knew that she needed to wait on the changeup from O’Toole in order to find success against her.
“Hitting a changeup over was a big deal for me, because it’s hard for me to stay back on changeups, so that was exciting,” Friudenberg said.
Following two relatively stressful innings in the third and fourth for Selman, Arizona once again turned up the heat and the pressure in the fifth.
The Wildcats answered back with two runs on singles from Mercado and Harper before Selman was able to end the threat.
Arizona senior pitcher Danielle O’Toole, in her final game in a Wildcat uniform, got off to a rocky start in the first few innings but settled down to keep Arizona within striking the difference. O’Toole finished with six innings of work, allowing three runs on 10 hits with two walks and two strikeouts.
McQuillin (16-4) took the loss, allowing three runs on three hits with one walk and one strikeout in one inning in the circle.
Arizona left 10 people on base, eight of which came from the 3-4-5 spots in the lineup with Mercado, Harper and sophomore designated player Tamara Stratman.
Despite four hits and three runs driven in by Mercado and Harper, Baylor chose to not let senior third baseman Katiyana Mauga beat it, walking her three more times and seven over the three game series. The one time Baylor pitched to her, she flew out to center field off of Rodoni in the sixth inning.
She finishes with 92 career home runs, three short of former Oklahoma Sooners’ standout Lauren Chamberlain’s NCAA record of 95 as Arizona ends its season at 52-9.
No. 15 Baylor (48-13) advances to the Women’s College World Series where it will meet its Big 12 nemesis No. 10 Oklahoma (55-9).
Oklahoma took two of three games from Baylor during their April 22-23 series.
Baylor and Oklahoma will meet for the fourth time this season at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.