By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
Baylor softball is making their first trip to the Women’s College World Series since 2014, and their fourth trip in school history.
Even though he has been there before, Baylor head coach Glenn Moore still relishes in the experience and the opportunity as much as his players do.
“It never gets old. It is certainly something that you think and dream about every year when you assess your team at the beginning and wonder what your chances are,” Moore said. “There are about 300 teams who are trying to get where you are headed today, so I couldn’t be more proud of them and what they’ve accomplished.”
Moore leads Baylor into a World Series field where five of the eight schools are the top national seeds, including No. 1 Florida, No. 3 Oregon, No. 5 UCLA, No. 6 Washington, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 10 Oklahoma and No. 13 LSU.
Visibly missing from the aforementioned field is No. 2 Arizona, who Baylor disposed of in three games over the weekend in the Tucson, Ariz. Super Regionals. The series showcased the 1-2 punch in the circle of senior Kelsee Selman, who earned the win in game two and the save in game three, and sophomore Gia Rodoni, who won game three.
It also highlighted the power and offensive capabilities of the Shelby’s, junior first baseman Shelby Friudenberg and freshman utility player Shelby “Goose” McGlaun, both of whom had key home runs in helping Baylor clinch a spot in the World Series.
These two offensive forces will be making their first trip to the mecca of college softball, something that gives both players and coaches a real gift in life.
“As a coach, there is no great gift you can give your players than to take them to the greatest place in college softball. This is something that they’ll be able to talk about for the rest of their lives,” Moore said. “For the seniors, it’s great for them to go back. For the first-timers, it’s great as well, memories will be made on the biggest stage of college softball.”
Despite the previous experience, Moore believes this team’s character is different from those in past seasons and that this is what makes this team so special.
“They’re a tough, tough team, maybe the toughest I’ve ever coached,” Moore said. “They are so hard headed. They know how to win and compete and they never throw the towel in.”
Cargill, who leads the team in batting average at .430, is the face of that toughness and the cornerstone of Moore’s defense. As a great a feat it is to return to the World Series for her as a senior, making it back just isn’t good enough.
“Having gone freshman year, it’s nice to be able to get back again,” Cargill said. “I think this year we’re more focused on winning that National Championship. It’s a business trip for us and we’re going to be focused the entire time.”
For Hawkins, the advantage the Lady Bears have on the field is that they have been playing with a chip on their shoulder for the entire season.
“Our talent and our heart makes us different. We’ve proven a lot of people wrong this year as lots of people doubted us this year,” Hawkins said. “In fact, we doubted ourselves since we lost a lot of great people from last year. We have kept trusting in one another and supporting each other and that has been the difference.”
Entering the field as the lowest remaining national seed at No. 15, Baylor will certainly be the underdog when it takes the field on Thursday.
However, Baylor won’t be playing against new competition, but instead finds themselves in a bracket with three teams they are quite familiar with in No. 3 Oregon, who Baylor lost to twice in the Eugene, Ore. regional in 2016 and No. 6 Washington, who Baylor beat 3-1 on March 4 in Fullerton, Calif. as part of the Judi Garman Classic.
However, the team Baylor knows and who knows Baylor better than anyone else on the field is that of their first opponent, Big 12 rival No. 10 Oklahoma.
The Lady Bears and Sooners met three times in Norman, Okla. April 22-23 with Oklahoma taking two of three games from Baylor en route to a Big 12 Conference regular season title.
The first two games were highly competitive, with Selman shutting out the Sooners for eight innings, before falling 3-2 in10 innings. In game two, Rodoni locked up the Sooners’ bats as Baylor gave Oklahoma its only home loss of the season 4-3 before falling in the finale 6-0.
Much like the way the girls entered the Arizona series with confidence despite having lost to the Wildcats earlier in the season, Baylor enters with that same confidence with the Sooners.
“We feel like we can compete with Oklahoma, but we also have a lot of respect for them and will do our due diligence in preparing for this team,” Moore said. “They’re a multidimensional team with a lot of options in the circle and we have to prepare for a lot of things. They’ll be comfortable with us and it will be like a home game for them with a lot of maroon in the stands. But we just played a game in front of about 3,000 people wearing Arizona shirts so it’s not something that is going to freak us out. We’ll be ready for them but we know they are a tough opponent.”
Cargill hopes that after having seen Oklahoma three times this season and coming off a win from Arizona, the team will be prepared for them.
“We know who we are facing,” Cargill said. “Lefty pitching and it’s a good thing for us having gone to Arizona because we saw that lefty pitching.”
Regardless of the opponent and the familiarity or lack thereof, the expectation is to never quit, something that has gotten Baylor further than most other schools this season.
“We’re fighters out there,” Cargill said. “I believe that this team will fight every against every team and every pitch.”
No. 15 Baylor will meet No. 10 Oklahoma for the fourth time this season at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
If the Lady Bears win, they will take on the winner of No. 3 Oregon and No. 6 Washington at 8:30 p.m. Friday, If Baylor loses, it will take on the loser of that game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in an elimination game.
On the top half of the bracket, opening round play will see No. 1 Florida vs. No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 5 UCLA vs. NO. 13 LSU.
Baylor and Oklahoma will air on ESPN2.